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ERB - Margaret Wilson 3rd Reading Speech

Wednesday, 16 August 2000 Speech Notes

EMPLOYMENT RELATIONS BILL
Third Reading speech notes

Mr Speaker, I move that the Employment Relations Bill be now read a third time.

It is difficult to put into words the emotions I feel, and are felt by members on this side of the House and the thousands of working people who have waited nearly a decade to see the repeal of the Employment Contracts Act.

That day has now come.

The struggle has been vindicated and now it is time to move forward.

Mr Speaker I want to pay tribute to the thousands of unionists – elected delegates and officials – who have struggled under the burden of the Employment Contracts Act.

Their efforts were not for their own advantage as the opposition would have us believe but to better the conditions of those they represent.

I also want to congratulate those employers who showed restraint and wisdom in not using the Employment Contracts Act to attack workers and their unions. They will reap the benefit of goodwill in the years to come.

Labour, Alliance and the Greens promised the repeal of the Employment Contracts Act. That promise has now been kept.

As I listened to the debate I realised the opposition have never grasped why the repeal of the ECA was important.

They have never experienced the powerlessness of unemployment. They have never experienced the fear that you will lose your job if you ask for a raise, or go home ill, or need time to care for a sick child, or refuse to work a split or double shift.

The Employment Relations Bill is important because it means those days are over.

Balance has been restored to New Zealand workplaces.

The right to have your say without reprisal has been returned to New Zealand.

Throughout the debate the opposition repeated that it did not know what good faith meant. This is not surprising.

The values reflected in the ECA encouraged a selfish greed that New Zealanders reacted against at the last election. Why? Because they know we must work together, not against each other if we are to face the challenge of globalisation with confidence.

Because they were unable to argue credibly against the Bill, the opposition campaign against it consisted mainly of agitation among employers and the exaggeration of employers' concerns.

Mr Speaker, the opposition parties must be held accountable for the damage they have done to business confidence and our economy.

The Hon Max Bradford has, in his futile attempts to amend the legislation, resorted to amendments that were last included in legislation of the 1970s, which represented the high point of Government intervention in employment relations.

That's past the Jurassic, it's past the Triassic, and back in the primeval slime.

Other amendments went back to the days before the passing of the first humane industrial legislation by the Liberal governments of last century.

The National Party's policies combine the worst aspects of the 1970s with the worst aspects of the 1870s.

The National Party has promised to fight the next election on this legislation.

Mr Speaker I say to them: start your campaign now.

After their Chicken Little efforts of the past months, even their own supporters will abandon them as it becomes clear that the sky has not fallen, and will not fall.

Mr Speaker, I wish to make some particular points in response to some of the issues raised in the debate during the Committee stages.

The first is the extent to which volunteers are covered by employment law. Volunteers are not covered by employment law now, nor will they be under this legislation. They are not employed. That is why they are not covered. The recent case involving foster parents reinforced that. We would expect the same result under this legislation. All we have done is expressly recognise an exemption that has been previously been hidden in the mass of common law.

The legislation was amended in Committee to make it clear that employers should not unreasonably deny access to union representatives. It is not the intent of this clause that employers would be able to deny access other than on the grounds included in the clause.

There has also been a suggestion that the notion of fixed term agreements does not sit comfortably alongside that of the collective agreement. That has led some to the false conclusion that a union member bound by a collective agreement can not be employed on a fixed term agreement, and to a similarly false conclusion that an employee protected by the 30 day rule can not have a fixed term agreement.

An amendment that I moved to change clause 81 during the Committee stages helps to reinforce the fact that any employee can have a fixed term agreement. The period of a collective agreement has no impact of itself on the period of employment of an employee bound by it.

Finally, I wish to ensure that this House clearly understands the broadness of the notion of mediation services under this Bill, and how the institutional arrangements generally are designed to focus on the problem between the parties. The mediation services being established are about flexible and innovative problem solving. They are not confined to the limited formal mediation constructs that our employment lawyers are used to. They instead occupy a continuum from the provision of information through to formal or "pure" mediation, the mix being chosen to suit the features and needs of the case at hand.

If a problem does go beyond mediation to the Authority and the Court, those institutions are charged with focussing on that problem and resolving it. They will not waste their own time, and that of the parties, by looking at how their fellow institutions have previously dealt with the same problem.

Mr Speaker, I would like to thank all those who have worked so hard on this legislation over the past couple of months.

Labour Department officials have been unstinting in carrying out their responsibilities to the Government and to this Parliament, as have the drafters from the Parliamentary Counsel Office.

My colleagues both in Labour and the Alliance have gained valuable experience in the process of working collaboratively, and I would particularly like to thank the Associate Minister for her intelligent, informed and always rigorous input into our policy discussions.

The members of the select committee spent a huge amount of time in the study of the Bill and in seeking improvements to it. I am sorry that two opposition parties were so caught up in the whirlwind of misinformation about the Bill that they were unable to take part in a more constructive way.

But in this context I would like to pay particular tribute to Sue Bradford of the Greens and Peter Brown of New Zealand First, both of whom have worked with the Government to improve the legislation. They have honestly-held policy differences, but have raised these in a constructive manner, and have been prepared to compromise in order to find solutions.

Mr Speaker, this legislation does not return to the past. It marks a final end to once-familiar elements of our employment law such as compulsory unionism, compulsory arbitration and National Awards. Parts of the new law build on the Employment Contracts Act.

I say to employers: this Bill will work for you if you work with it.

Good faith in your workplace is the basis of the best possible relationship with staff and the best possible results for you and others with an investment in your enterprise.

To employees and to those looking for jobs I say this: the government has in this law recognised the dignity of your labour and your right to be treated not as something to be bought and sold but as a human being with human rights in the workplace.

Your employer has a responsibility to act in good faith towards you and you have a responsibility to act in good faith towards your employer.

The fear which has permeated the workplace in the past decade will become a thing of the past.

It will be replaced by a spirit of cooperation, enthusiasm and fairness wherever employers and employees make the law work for them.


ENDS

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