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Employment Relations Act defies critics

Friday, 31 May 2002 Media Statement

Employment Relations Act defies critics

Minister of Labour Margaret Wilson says the Department of Labour’s latest monitoring report on the Employment Relations Act backs the groundswell of opinion that the Act is working well for New Zealanders.

“This government promised a more balanced approach to employment law, and that is what we have delivered. The facts speak for themselves: The Act has defied its critics. Any politician that changes direction will do New Zealanders a great disservice.”

“Problems on the job are being solved before they turn unnecessarily legal. And where legal intervention can’t be avoided, cases are being dealt with quickly and efficiently.”

One of the Act’s big achievements is that it gives people the ability to solve problems before they escalate. Free-of-charge Mediation Services were established to prevent confrontational and expensive legal tangles.

- Mediation Services have received10,556 requests for help
- 91 per cent of those problems have been dealt with
- Over half are dealt with within three weeks, and 92 per cent within three months

The most common problems brought to mediation are potential personal grievance claims, but Mediation Services assist with a wide range of issues - from office tensions to sticking points in collective bargaining.

“Often its involvement in bargaining situations concerns a specific issue. Once it is resolved, the parties can continue negotiations and reach settlement without further assistance.”

Margaret Wilson said the success of the service was changing attitudes to employment disputes. Mediation meant problems could be sorted informally, in some cases by telephone or email, rather than in an adversarial arena.

“Employers and employees have traditionally been reluctant to share their troubles outsiders, but there is growing acceptance that bringing in an impartial point of view can assist. It saves everyone time, money and heartache.”

This more informal approach to resolving problems helps prevent bottlenecks, such as those that dogged the Employment Court under the National government’s Employment Contracts Act, elsewhere in the judicial system.

The Employment Relations Authority – an investigative rather than judicial body established under the Act - has received 2,449 applications and dealt with 1,551 in its first 18 months. The authority was also able to refer an additional 1,116 applications to mediation.

Half of the authority’s cases are dealt with within three months, and nine out of 10 within seven months. This has roughly halved the wait people faced in the Employment Tribunal under the ECA, when some cases took over a year to reach hearing.

Margaret Wilson said this is a vast contrast to situation that festered under the previous government. “But we are sorting out those inherited problems. We started with 2,680 outstanding Employment Tribunal cases from the days of the Employment Contract Act; this is down to 314. I just wish the parties involved could have benefited from this government’s reforms.”

The Government is committed to making sure that good service continues and has made budget provisions to maintain service levels.

- Mediation Services will receive additional funding of $1 million in both the 2002-03 and 2003-04 financial years.

- The Employment Relations Authority will also receive additional funding of $563,000 in each of the next four years.

Margaret Wilson said: “The Act has given employers, employees and unions tools to foster productive employment relationships and to resolve problems when they do arise.”

“This proactive approach works best. I also commend the Department of Labour, which has answered about 300,000 inquiries on the Employment Relations Service Info-line, taken education programmes out to the community and provided useful information for employers and employees on its website. It all helps to promote the healthy relationships everyone would like to have on the job.”

ENDS

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