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Richard Prebble's Letter From Wellington #41

RICHARD PREBBLE'S Letter from Wellington
Monday, 04 December 2000

ACT is giving New Zealanders the opportunity to have their say on accident compensation. ACC spokesman and ACT Deputy Leader, Ken Shirley, believes (and select committee submissions support) that many New Zealanders enjoyed the dramatic levy drops and less adversarial claim environment that nine months of limited competition produced. The discussion paper will be launched at 1pm on Wednesday and will be viewable at http://www.act.org.nz/action/acc.html

Trouble At The Wharf

The Letter understands that the New Zealand Waterfront Workers Union will be picketing again tomorrow, this time in Timaru. The media spin will be that the workers are trying to protect 'local' jobs. In reality it is a demarcation dispute. For over thirty years members of the Waterfront Union have been flown around New Zealand to even out work for wharfies. However, under ACT initiated changes to the Employment Relations Act, it is possible to form a union with as few as 15 workers. It is a new union that the watersiders are fighting. Proof that it's a demarcation dispute is on the International Transport Workers Federation website. The site says "But one aspect of the legislation which allows just 15 people to form a union is causing problems for the ITF affiliated NZ Waterfront Workers Union. Carter Holt Harvey...is using casual workers from International Stevedores to load logs...The NZWWU has responded by setting up pickets...and confront the scabs wherever and whenever they attempt to displace true unionists." http://www.itf.org.uk/ap/ape62.htm Les Dickson's firm is paying the unskilled labourers $150 a day. The unemployment benefit is $148 a week, so it is hardly exploitation. During ERA select committee hearings, port companies predicted demarcation disputes, asking for the ability to get injunctions and court orders. Minister of Labour, Margaret Wilson, claimed such disputes would not occur. Recent parliamentary questions show she's still in denial.

ERA Developments

Unions are presenting collective contract demands to companies that moved to individual agreements. Large construction companies are being targeted. The Letter understands employers are prepared to accept collective agreements but not employment flexibility restrictions. A modern construction site is a testament to co-operation. The head constructor contracts with sub-contractors who in turn contract with labour contractors.

The original version of the Employment Relations Act tried to outlaw contracting by declaring all contractors employees. Thanks to changes promoted by ACT this proposal was dropped. The unions are now attempting to gain by industrial action what they failed to get in parliament. The union tactic has been to call repeated stop work meetings. They are illegal. In the last month, on many different work places, there have been dozens of these mini strikes. As it would not be economically viable to return to direct employment the Letter predicts these disputes will escalate. The test will come when an employer asks for an order from the new Employment Authority that the stopwork meetings are illegal, that they cease and that damages are payable. ACT's "Freedom to Contract" employment policy can be found at www.act.org.nz/action/employment.html http://www.act.org.nz/action/employment.html

The New Employment Authority

The first personal grievance cases are now being heard by the Authority. The coalition forced incumbent tribunal members to reapply for their jobs and purged those considered pro-employer. In a number of cases employment lawyers are now arguing that the Authority should set new, higher, "wrongful dismissal" compensation levels. By Christmas we should know what the new levels will be. It's a safe bet they certainly won't be lower.

MMP Musical Chairs

As the Letter predicted the Greens caused Labour real anxiety over the Health bill. By voting with National they forced changes to the Bill. Unfortunately the changes didn't improve the law. To the 21 new bureaucracies the bill created, the Greens wanted to add even more bureaucracy. They believe spending more money on civil servants rather than expertise will prevent another Gisborne controversy. The Greens' success in obtaining changes the Alliance were previously denied is causing real tension. The Greens are emboldened and are making what can only be described as extreme 'socialist' policy demands. One example is telecommunications. Labour ministers have already rejected the Fletcher Commission's "heavy handed regulator". The Greens are demanding the Kiwi Share provisions be legislated. It would appear the Greens are not aware of the world-wide discount in telco shares as investors realise radical new technology has made telecommunications a risky business. ACT is strongly in favour of market competition over regulation. If the Greens become too demanding, Minister Paul Swain should consider talking to ACT. ACT always votes for freedom, and Labour/Alliance/ACT is a majority vote. Stranger things have happened under MMP.

Legislative Paralysis

The coalition planned to introduce 15 new pieces of legislation by Christmas. It appears no more than three will be ready. The coalition spin will be that it's trying to be business friendly. The real reason is paralysis. Helen Clark's willingness to interfere and override Ministers has undermined their authority, and their confidence. Interest groups know they can appeal over Ministers' decisions and they do. The separate internal factions, women, Maori, trade unions all demand separate consultation. The government must then negotiate with the Alliance, and then (if they remember), the Greens. Every concession requires the whole process to be repeated. You reap what you sow.

Helping Through The Tough Times

ACT MP Muriel Newman's Family Court (Openness of Proceedings) Bill will be debated in parliament this week. During custody battles, couples often use the secrecy of the Family Court to make wild accusations of child abuse etc. Open Court access results in fewer spurious allegations as family and friends will know them to be false.

Letter from Wellington is faxed and emailed weekly. To subscribe, or contribute, call 04 470 6624, Fax 04 473 3532, e-mail act@parliament.govt.nz Post to: ACT Parliamentary Office, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.

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