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Labour committed to balance and safety at work

4th July 2002

Employment relations policy will continue on the current path of returning good faith and productivity to New Zealand workplaces, Labour Minister Margaret Wilson says.

In 1999, Labour promised to pass a law that would encourage the collective organisation of workers, recognise unions, ensure voluntary union membership and be consistent with International Labour Organisation conventions.

The Employment Relations Act is, contrary to wild predictions, working well. “The confrontational and litigious style of National’s Employment Contracts Act regime is being replaced by workplace practices that reflect the principles of good faith in employment relationships,” Margaret Wilson says.

Government also adopted a consultative approach to ensure that both unions and employers helped shape policy development. This approach will continue.

“The aim has always been to restore balance, and progress has been steady. It will continue in the same vein in a second term of government. We will also take further steps to improve New Zealand’s workplaces and balance work with family life,” Margaret Wilson said.

Labour will review the operation of the ERA to identify what fine-tuning is needed. Two key questions are whether collective bargaining is adequately supported and whether compliance costs can be reduced.

Labour will also carry on with other legislation and policy development it had already started.

This includes passing the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill, which provides for shared employer/employee responsibilities and for effective enforcement of the Act. This year’s budget has already made a provision of $12.5 million over four years for implementing the bill, including an increase in the number of inspectors.

Labour remains deeply concerned at the number of New Zealanders who are killed, injured or develop illness as a result of their work. “We must have safer and healthier workplaces. One workplace death is unacceptable. The deaths of two workers this week was a terrible reminder of the workplace toll,” Margaret Wilson said.

Labour will also hold an inquiry into the management of hazardous substances - particularly those in the health, printing and manufacturing sectors, and the general use of aldehydes and solvents in the workplace.

Labour remains committed to modernising and promoting minimum conditions of employment. Minimum wage rates have already been raised and will continue to be adjusted so they don’t lose value over time. The new paid parental leave scheme will be extended, as resources permit, to fourteen weeks and to include those who have had more than one employer in the previous year and the self-employed.

As previously signalled, the Holidays Act would be updated and changed to provide additional payments for people who work on statutory holidays and to clarify sick and special leave entitlements.

Labour intends to introduce measures, including legislation, to protect the employment terms and conditions of employees in the event of the sale or transfer of a business, or where employees’ work is contracted out.

Margaret Wilson says Labour plans further action to make workplaces better places to be.

- The Holidays Act will be further reviewed to identify ways of promoting balance between home and work life.

- The effects of casualisation of the workforce will be reviewed.

- Options for promoting pay equity will be researched and policy developed with the aim of closing the gap between the pay rates of men and women.

- Legislation relating to how insolvency law affects employees will be introduced.

- A Ministerial Advisory Group will examine the adequacy of redundancy law and provision.

- A minimum code of practice for state sector contractors to ensure observance of fair and ethical employment practices will be introduced.

“I think we have raised people’s expectations of what they should expect at work, and rightly so. Well-researched and ultimately sensible reforms have an important role to play in raising New Zealanders’ quality of life, and will assist businesses to recruit and retain the skilled people needed to build the economy,” Margaret Wilson said.

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