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Employment Relations Bill Speech to Parliament

ACT leader Richard Prebble
Employment Relations Bill Speech to Parliament

The ACT party is strongly opposed to the Employment Relations Bill.

The Bill is a radical rewrite of New Zealand's employment laws. It introduces new concepts foreign to our law, some that have no precedent anywhere. It's law designed on the premise that the whole country is like a university.

The government claims its new law is fairer - this law has nothing to do with fairness. Where is the fairness in making it illegal to carry on your business in a strike? Is it fair that good employers will now have even more to fear from bogus personal grievance claims?

This Bill's real purpose is to promote trade unionism. The Bill is the result of an ideological belief that the free enterprise system is exploitative; the belief that business is exploitative; and the belief that freedom to contract is exploitative. The people that wrote this Bill actually think that all employers are crooks and thieves!

The government must believe this otherwise why would labour inspectors be given more power than a police officer? Why would the Bill allow a trade union official to enter your premises without notice, something a police officer can't do?

This Bill bestows power and privilege on unions. Only unions can negotiate a collective contract. If any employees dare to do this - the contract is void. Multi-employer strikes are legalised - a return to industry-wide strikes. New employees must be employed on the union collective for 30 days. To be on the collective, workers must join the union - de facto compulsory unionism.

Unions truly are Helen Clark's 'chosen people'.

The Bill rides roughshod over the sanctity of contract. Unions - by democratic vote - can terminate existing collective contracts on July 1 next year. They will use this to line up every port, every freezing works, every airline. This is a recipe for industry-wide collectives - and industry-wide strikes.

The Bill, for the first time in New Zealand, makes it illegal to order employees to do the work of striking workers, or bring in outside help. This clause alone gives enormous power to workers in key positions and makes the strike a lethal weapon.

This Bill will not promote industrial harmony. It's bad for investment, growth and jobs.

This Bill is unfair to small business. It has been designed for big business, but 92% of employers have fewer than 10 workers. Employers must pay for union education, they must collect union fees, they must understand this complex legislation. The compliance costs of this will be huge, and small business will be hardest hit.

Personal grievances are easier to bring and the presumption is created that the employer is guilty. In certain circumstances, claims can be brought up to nine years later. That’s another compliance cost, and another reason not to create jobs.

The Bill attracted the all-time record for submissions. Some 2305 substantive submissions, 75% against the Bill. 15,000 form submissions and a 57,000 signature petition in favour of owner operator continuity.

I had expected in the 395 oral submissions to hear stories of workers being exploited. That's been the coalition propaganda. There are 250,000 employers in New Zealand. Human nature being what it is there must be, under any law, some bad employers.

Very few cases were presented. In every case the Labour department had prosecuted or the Employment Court had made major awards. There were no cases of exploitation where the existing law had not acted or this Bill would provide a better remedy.

That did surprise me. The Employment Contracts Act not only provided a framework where over 280,000 new jobs were created, it has clearly been much fairer than either its critics or supporters realised.

This Bill is not fair on the unemployed. Under this regime the people who will lose out will be those who are most marginalised in our community - the young, the uneducated, the unskilled.

This Bill makes it risky to employ anyone, let alone someone with a dodgy employment history. The very people who most need a break will now be even less likely to get one. Those who already have jobs may get pay rises, but it is the unemployed who will pay.

This Bill must not pass. It is unfair, it creates privilege, it will create industrial strife, it will damage the economy, it will hurt the poor and the marginalised. This Bill will not take us one step closer to the government's own, very laudable goal of closing the gaps. This Bill must not pass.


dENDS

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