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Labour On Employment Relations


Labour believes that legislation governing employment relations should recognise the interdependence of workers and employers, promote and sustain economic growth, and assist in achieving a fair distribution of resources.

Labour acknowledges that there is not an equal balance of power between workers and employers, and believes that the best way to redress that imbalance is to encourage the collective organisation of workers and to foster collective bargaining as the preferred means of establishing the rights and obligations of workers.

In 1999 Labour promised to replace the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) with legislation that would promote collective bargaining, recognise unions, ensure voluntary union membership and be consistent with International Labour Organisation conventions.

The Employment Relations Act (ERA) was passed in 2000, and implemented that policy. The ERA is working well. Union membership and the coverage of collective agreements have stabilised and are now increasing. The confrontational and litigious style of the ECA regime is being replaced by industrial relations practices that are underpinned by mediation and that reflect the principles of good faith in employment relationships. This has been widely welcomed by employers and employees

Labour will review the operation of the ERA to identify if any fine-tuning is needed either in the law, or in administrative supports that operate to implement the law.

The review will focus on giving effect to the aim of promoting, as opposed to simply permitting, the free association of workers and collective bargaining.

Matters that will be covered in the review include:

- Whether more administrative support needs to be given to facilitate multi-employer collective bargaining, particularly where the size of employer units in particular sectors makes enterprise bargaining inefficient and ineffective.

- The adequacy of provisions in the ERA to discourage and prevent the undermining and avoidance of collective bargaining.

- Provisions allowing union fee deductions for union members not covered by a collective agreement.

- Improving monitoring and research into labour market practices.

- Whether compliance costs associated with the bargaining process can be reduced.

- Processes for accessing employment relations education leave (EREL), and the provision of EREL for union members not covered by collective agreements.

- The extent to which the intent of the Act and, in particular, the principles of good faith bargaining are given sufficient weight in the application of the Act.

- Whether the provisions of the Employment Relations Act are consistent with ILO conventions 87 and 98 so as to enable ratification.

Labour believes that effective employment relations involve much more than simply negotiating pay and conditions of employment.

Therefore Labour will extend the social partnership model, as seen in our Industry Training policy, as appropriate in the wider state sector, and encourage more effective industry and workplace partnerships in the private sector.

Labour believes that work is but one dimension of living, and should not crowd out or distort family life, recreation and personal development.

Labour will work to develop an integrated and balanced family-friendly work/life programme and encourage employers and unions to have regard to its basic principles when negotiating collective agreements and designing work practices.


In 1999 Labour advocated a new approach to employment rights. Minimum conditions of employment were scattered in many different pieces of legislation. The laws were outdated, difficult to understand and hard to enforce.

Labour believes that workers and employers need fair and comprehensive laws that set out minimum conditions of employment for all. Laws must contain simple, clear, objective and enforceable rights. The minimum code must set a floor of rights, not a tradeable package.

Labour has made substantial progress towards upgrading the floor of minimum employment rights.

Labour in government has:

- Increased the adult minimum wage from $7 to $8 per hour, and raised the youth minimum wage from 60 to 80 percent of the adult rate.

- Introduced Paid Parental Leave (PPL).

- Improved the basic entitlements of workers on individual employment contracts.

- Increased the resources available to the Labour Inspectorate.

- Convened Ministerial Advisory Groups to recommend improvements to the Holidays Act, to consider the rights of workers when the company for which they work is sold, and to promote equal employment opportunities.

Labour will:

- Amend the Holidays Act to provide for an additional payment for those who work on statutory holidays, to separate out rights to sick and special leave, and to bring the provisions of the Act into line with the realities of modern employment practices.

- Further review the Holidays Act to ensure that it contributes to achieving the aims of the work/life programme that will be promoted to union and employer groups.

- Introduce mechanisms to ensure regular increases in the minimum wage to ensure that its value is not eroded over time.

- Upgrade entitlements to Paid Parental Leave, as resources permit, and after the scheduled review of its first year of operation. In addition to a response to problems identified in that review, the priority for improvements will be extending:

o entitlement to PPL to those who have had more than one employer in the previous year.

o the period of leave to fourteen weeks

o entitlements to the self employed.

- As a matter of priority, introduce a comprehensive measure (based on the work of the Ministerial Advisory Group) including legislative intervention to ensure there is protection of employment conditions and continuity of employment in the event of the sale of a business, transfer of undertakings, or contracting out.

- Review the effects of the casualisation of work and identify interventions that can mitigate adverse impacts of casualisation.

- Establish a Ministerial Advisory Group to examine the adequacy of redundancy law and provision.

- Introduce measures to address the gap between male and female wage rates.

- Develop a programme to promote equal pay for work of equal value.

- Introduce a minimum code of practice for state sector contractors to ensure observance of fair and ethical employment practices.

- Introduce legislation relating to how insolvency law affects employees.


The number of New Zealanders who are killed, injured or develop illness as a result of their work environment is a matter of serious concern. Labour attaches high priority to the achievement of a healthier and safer work environment.

Labour believes that the traditional approach to workplace health and safety was paternalistic: the government set the standards and enforced the rules. A more effective occupational health and safety regime augments the traditional approach by increasing the requirements on the government to consult more widely in setting national and industry OSH standards and by improving employee involvement in setting standards and monitoring their implementation.

Labour has upgraded the input of all stakeholder groups in developing codes of practice and regulations by changing the way OSH policy is administered. It has also diluted the potential conflict between a single agency educating and encouraging on the one hand, and policing and prosecuting on the other but separating these roles and entrusting the education function to the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Labour will:

- Implement the provisions in the Health and Safety in Employment Amendment Bill.

- Inquire into the effect of chemicals on employees.

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