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Employment Law Reform Bill Severely Flawed

Employment Relations Law Reform Bill Severely Flawed

Tuesday 14 Sep 2004

Richard Prebble - Press Releases - Employment

"The Employment Relations Law Reform Bill should be rejected by Parliament. It is ACT's view this Bill will result in significant deterioration in industrial relations, equity in the workforce, productivity, jobs and growth," said ACT Employment spokesman, Richard Prebble today.

"This Bill contradicts the general principle that the law should be clear. It extends the meaning of good faith in employment relations beyond the common law obligations of `mutual trust and confidence'. The new meanings will cause much confusion and grounds for disputes.

"Citizens should not be subject to fines for failing to follow law that is not clear, even to people of goodwill. It is also wrong that the State should, through the Employment Relations Authority, have the power to fix the terms and conditions of employment if there has been a breach of good faith in relation to the collective bargaining.

"The committee did not hear evidence, which in any way establishes that the State should promote collective bargaining, yet the Bill does promote collective bargaining. It seems an extraordinary abuse of State power for this Bill to say it is a breach of good faith for an employer to pass on to non-union members the terms and conditions of a collective agreement. The proviso that it is only a breach if the pass-on was to intentionally seek to undermine the collective is no safeguard.

"It is ACT's view that these clauses seek to promote trade union power and trade union membership. As nearly 90% of private sector employees have chosen not to join trade unions the Act party believes Parliament should respect this free choice by citizens.

"Claims that non-union workers are freeloading are nonsense.

"There is no reason why the State should force any employer into a multi-employer collective agreement. ACT is sympathetic to the evidence from employers that they do not wish to have to sit down and bargain with competitors and their desire to have direct negotiations with their employees. That the majority of workers do not belong to trade unions supports our view that most employees would prefer to negotiate directly with their employer.

"The Bill makes a number of changes in the area of unjustified dismissals. ACT's view is the Bill will do nothing to halt the growth of wrongful dismissal claims.

"The provisions of the Bill requiring `vulnerable' employees be given the right to transfer to the new employer on the same terms and conditions they have with the current employer will make the sale of businesses very difficult. We also believe this clause will in practice turn out to be very unfair. Where, for example, a firm of cleaners has lost their contract because of unsatisfactory work and say, theft by employees, it is just wrong that these employees have their jobs guaranteed by the State.

"It appears the real purpose of this Bill is a move towards national awards and compulsory trade unionism. The Bill is based on the Marxist idea that there is unequal bargaining power between workers and employers. At different times and at different places there will be either a buyers' or sellers' market for employment. A free and competitive employment market is desirable not just for employers but also for employees. In the present situation of labour shortages it is employers who are at a disadvantage.

"The Employment Relations Reform Bill takes away from citizens their right to organise their lives as they wish. This is a piece of legislation with no redeeming features," Mr Prebble said.


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