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Volunteers Employment Protection Amendment Bill

Speech
Wayne Mapp MP

This Private Members Bill, by National's Wayne Mapp, is before the House today for its first reading. Attached for your information is a copy of his speech notes.

As further background, in a release on August 17th (when the Bill was drawn from the ballot) Dr Mapp made the following comments:

Territorial soldiers who serve overseas will have more security about having a job to come home to under legislation being promoted by National Defence spokesperson Wayne Mapp.

"The need for job protection was demonstrated by the deployment of territorial soldiers to East Timor in May this year. Many of these soldiers were told that they could not expect their jobs to be kept open for them if they went, and consequently were forced to give up their jobs", Dr Mapp said.

"The territorials provide a valuable back-up to our regular forces. But they should not be asked to make a choice between serving their country and retaining their livelihood at home."

"While the protection offered in my Bill will not be an absolute guarantee, it will give territorial soldiers a reasonable expectation that they can go overseas without the fear of being unable to return to their jobs," Dr Mapp said.

The protection amounts to the same level of protection as provided in Parental Leave legislation. Employment of those enlisted in the Territorial Forces is currently protected for initial basic training up to three months, and for three weeks a year for continued training exercises, but was never extended to include actual overseas deployment.

Notes from Speech by Wayne Mapp, MP

North Shore Volunteers Employment Protection Amendment Bill First Reading: 20 September 2000

(CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY)

I move that the Volunteers Employment Protection Amendment Bill be now read for a first time.

Today over 100 young territorial soldiers are training for deployment to East Timor in November. Already 30 are serving the country in East Timor. The longer we have soldiers in East Timor, the larger the territorial component is likely to be. Our territorial force is becoming increasingly crucial to New Zealand's ability to maintain sustainable operations.

The contribution to East Timor is the largest that has been made by the Territorial Force since World War II.

Part time soldiers have been an essential feature of our defence forces for decades, but it is only in recent years that they have served overseas. Initially, these were one year positions in UN observer positions, as New Zealand contributions have expanded, so has the call of the territorial force. This is all done on a voluntary basis. There is no authority, except in extreme situations, for territorial soldiers to be required to serve overseas.

Today territorial soldiers are at the very core of our deployments. If we didn't have enthusiastic young people willing to serve their country on a part time basis, we simply couldn't fulfil our international and regional obligations.

Yet the territorial force is smaller than it has ever been, with 2,000 soldiers, 1,200 being efficient. Just a decade ago, there were 7,000 territorial soldiers. If we are going to maintain the tempo of deployments, it is clear we will need to expand the Territorial Force. It is a cheap, effective way of boosting our defence. Because they are part-time, territorial soldiers are considerably cheaper than full time soldiers.

It is time we gave the territorials more support. Part of the solution will be job protection while on overseas deployment. That is already the case in the United Kingdom, and the United States. Australia has made a commitment to do so. It is time New Zealand did too.

The Bill is the start of the process. It provides that a volunteer's job will be held open while they serve overseas. Referral of the Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Select Committee would enable the initiative to be properly considered.

There have been too many stories of territorial service being an adverse mark against employees. A number of leading New Zealand employers, including local authorities, have actively dissuaded soldiers from serving. People are asked at job interviews "Are you a member of the Territorial Force?" - it is not usually seen as a positive point, as is the case overseas. Instead, some employers see it as causing problems, with staff taking leave for training.

Perhaps that is because we have too few territorial soldiers. People no longer have friends and family serving their country. It is often hard to see how military service will help a business, simply because so few people now have had any form of military training. The virtues of service are important - leadership, resourcefulness, self-discipline - all characteristics valuable to any firm or business. It is also a lesson in civic duty.

The essential features of the Bill are that it provides protection for a volunteer for up to 12 months. It is not intended to be an absolute guarantee. As with the 1987 Parental Leave Bill, employers should be able to make out a case on the basis that a person's position is essential and must be replaced.

I will certainly concede that the Bill needs further work. The territorial force has in fact done considerable detailed work on its own volunteers' employment protection bill, which the Select Committee would find very valuable.

This Bill does involve a large commitment by employers. It is a cost that is only borne by the employers who employ territorials. The Australian government intends to provide financial support for employers who employ Reserves soldiers. A sum of $20 million has been set aside for employer assistance initiatives. This is clearly an opportunity for New Zealand to consider such an option. On a pro rata basis, $4 million would be available to support employers.

I would anticipate that the Select Committee will get a number of well-considered submissions that will enhance the Bill.

I also note the Attorney-General's note on the Bill of Rights Act issue. This is an issue that can be rectified. In fact, it relates only to ex parte orders being interim. Clearly it is appropriate that ex parte orders should be interim, and able to be challenged. I would expect the Select Committee to take that into account when reformulating the Bill.

This Bill is an opportunity for Parliament to support the Territorial Force. They are serving New Zealand to a greater extent than ever before. They will be making up a considerable proportion of our force in East Timor. It is time that we showed, in a very clear way, that we will find practical ways to assist them in their duty to the country.

Ends

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