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Hone Harawira: Speech On Employment Bill

Employment Relations Amendment Bill

Wednesday 30 August 2006

Hone Harawira, Employment Spokesperson, Maori Party
Mr Speaker, this House is considering a number of proposals for better relations with Australia, so I thought I’d share a little story from over the ditch.

Late last year, twenty construction workers got sacked by D3 General Contracting, without wages, holiday pay, or redundancy. D3 was contracting to Northpac Construction, a company with sites all over the world. Those twenty workers were Maori.

According to the Union, D3 hadn’t paid any of its workers their entitlements, or superannuation, since April 2005. Northpac however, continued to build on the site where the workers were laid off, but the effects of D3 going into receivership were immediate, and dramatic.

One of the workers, a whanaunga of mine from up north, got evicted from his home, and one of his mates, Te Ururoa Flavell’s whanaunga, Rawiri Iti, 52 years of age, with four kids and six mokopuna, got dumped on the scrapheap.
He later told the media:“’cause most of us are Maori, we’ve been through it all before in New Zealand back in 1992. We know the effects this has on people and their families, both physically and mentally”.

During the course of the industrial action, Northpac offered a one-off payment of $25,000 (one tenth of what was owed) and tried to bribe one of the workers with a $5000 payment, if they moved the picket line from in front of the office.

Union spokesman Steve Keenan, said it was the same as the industrial relations policies which had forced their family to leave New Zealand in the first place.
“In New Zealand I was getting $19 an hour plus overtime rates, but when the laws were changed in 1991 and we went onto individual bargaining contracts I ended up with $9 an hour and no overtime ... and that’s after fourteen years’ service!”
Mr Speaker, this story isn’t just about twenty Maori workers fighting for their rights in Sydney. It should also be a warning to us here at home, to be wary of legislation which results in vulnerable workers being threatened.

Workers made vulnerable when an employer sells or transfers his business. Workers who lose a long-term contract to in-house employment.
Workers who face the loss of terms and conditions, and loss of income, as a result of changes which arise when a business gets sold. And these are real problems. Problems which are happening right now, as low-paid workers lose their jobs every week.

These problems in fact, are so current, that as we speak, unions representing five hundred workers at supermarket centres all round the country, are in mediation to prevent Progressive Enterprises from bringing in contractors, to do the work of the locked-out workers.

The National Distribution Union and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, are filing on behalf of workers who service up to 150 Countdown, Foodtown and Woolworths stores - that’s about half of all our supermarkets.
All this is going on - despite the fact that engaging other workers to perform the work of union members involved in industrial action, is supposed to be illegal, under the Employment Relations Act.

It’s a fast and furious world out there, and restructuring situations, and contracting changeovers, are becoming part of our employment reality.

This Bill aims to make it clear that under the Act, workers have a right to transfer their employment terms and conditions.

The recent decision of the Employment Court in Gibbs (and others) v Crest Commercial Cleaning Ltd showed that the provisions of the current Act were not clear enough. Hopefully this Bill will tidy that up.

Without this amendment, vulnerable workers can lose their jobs or have changes imposed on them (such as changing hours of work, increased workload, and associated stress), when there is a contract change.

The Maori Party believes that this Bill will help the many Maori workers and their whanau, who are regularly affected by changes in contracting relationships.
We shouldn’t need to be reminded - but the impacts of these changes can have serious consequences for workers and their whanau.

The Service and Food Workers Union, Nga Ringa Tota, reckons that changes in employment conditions impact hugely on workers with low incomes, forcing them to juggle a whole series of other balls, like whanau commitments, childcare, the shopping, partner’s employment, and other jobs.

Workers faced with reduced income caused by changes to their employment conditions, are also being forced to take up more jobs just to pay the bills, job stabilitygoes on the line, relationships get strained at home, andthe Service and Food Workers Union says that people lose their jobs, just because of the stress of trying to cope.

Our support for this Bill, is also in line with our policy of supportingand where necessary, improving the Employment Relations Act 2000 to safeguard the rights of workers.

One of the recommendations from the select committee process that we took particular note of, was the proposal to amend the Act, so that employees could have the right to bargain for redundancy entitlements.
That would enable workers to negotiate redundancy when the job ends, as well as through restructuring, or other reasons.

We also accept the proposal from the Select Committee, that while entitlements like parental leave and holidays can continue, employment complaints should not carry over to a new employer; workers have to move on, and pick up the new job without the old hassles.

Quite simply, this is a sensible Bill. It is about ensuring clarity, transparency, and fairness … and on those grounds, the Maori Party is happy to support it.

Just a little post-script to the story of the boys in Sydney. After three months of picketing, and the suffering that goes with that, the twenty workers won back their full entitlement - more than $250,000 in wages, holiday pay, and severance pay - because the legislation was in place, to ensure that their right to bargain for redundancy payments, could be enforced.

What’ll make an even happier ending to that story though, is having the same legislation in place here, so we can ring up the boys and tell them to come on home, because it’s all good here in the hood as well.

Back home, where there’s plenty of jobs, good employment conditions, and the mighty Maori Party is in the House, “defending Maori rights and advancing Maori interests, for the benefit of the whole nation.”

Well, one out of three ain’t bad I suppose … bit more work on the jobs and conditions of employment to go.


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