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Flavell: Transfer of Public Holidays Bill

Holidays (Transfer of Public Holidays) Amendment Bill

Te Ururoa Flavell, MP for Waiariki

Friday 26 September 2008; 9.20am

Morena tatou

By this point in the urgency programme, there is something very attractive about the concept of holidays, although sleep is an even more attractive option at this point of the programme; and going home.

We are pleased to be supporting this Bill, which amends the Holidays Act 2003 to ensure that when a work shift spans two days, at least one of which is a public holiday, an employer and employee can enter into an agreement to transfer the public holiday to cover one whole shift.

It all sounds very complicated I suppose, but in reality, what the Bill will do is reinstate previous practices which benefited both the employer and employee.

And so we are pleased that the Bill is supported by both employers and employees – a win-win situation all around.

In fact, so well accepted has been this proposal, that the employees of Heinz Watties actually made a joint application for the change with the Company.

As I understand it, the Bill provides specifically for agreement about such a transfer to be reached in certain circumstances. These circumstances are when, say, the shift spanning two days starts or finishes on a public holiday.

Madam Speaker, the first point to note is that it is intended to specifically address the consequences of the Supreme Court decision in the Airline Pilots case. The effect of the Supreme Court decision was to overturn the Employment Court decision in the Heinz Wattie case.

The Heinz Wattie case that went to the Employment Court dealt with the issue of shift workers whose shift crosses midnight.

The Employment Court had found that workers and employers could agree to observe a public holiday based on the shift patterns rather than midnight to midnight. The Employment Court’s decision was generally supported by both unions and employers.

Whereas the Supreme Court found that a public holiday can only be one of the days listed in section 44 of the Holidays Act.

And so this is where it becomes rather complicated.

The general policy statement in the bill specifically states that “the legislation is needed following the recent Supreme Court decision New Zealand Airline Pilots’ Association…”. However it only deals with the Heinz Wattie issue of shift workers.

It does not address the issue of, for example, workers who want to observe days of cultural significance other than those listed in the Act.

Basically the bill proposes to repeal section 44 clause 2 altogether and effectively replace it with a new section 44A which only deals with the Heinz Wattie scenario of shift workers.

In other words, the bill appears to narrow the circumstances in which a public holiday can be transferred to only those concerning shift workers whose shift cross midnight.

However, the general principle of workers having the ability to observe days of cultural significance to them rather than being limited to those listed in the Act is a good one, we believe, provided it is not open to abuse.

The best way of doing that, we think, as the Maori Party, would be to provide that such arrangements require agreement between the employer and employee but can only be initiated by employees.

The scenario might be for example, Madam Speaker, that a Muslim worker wants to observe the beginning of Rahmadan a day of cultural significance to him or her rather than Christmas day; to celebrate the birthday of Tahupotiki Wiremu Ratana; or perhaps the monthly hui on the 18th of the month practiced at at Parihaka as my colleague Mahara Okeroa would know, or the 12th by the Ringatu.

That worker would be able to request that he or she works on Christmas day and the nominated day of cultural significance becomes his or her public holiday. We think that’s a pretty good idea.

The employer would not be able to withhold agreement unreasonably. The worker would not be entitled to time and a half for working on Christmas day.

Madam Speaker, the Maori Party will be supporting this Bill.

We have spoken with a number of different union organisations, and we know that members are very supportive of this Bill.

We know that Business NZ and the Combined Trade Union have been consulted – and both support the amendment.

Many of these same members work in food factories which run 24 hour production lines – and work 11pm to 7am night shifts, and so they are directly affected by this Bill.

What it appeared has happened is that as a result of the Supreme court ruling, at midnight the pay rate changes, which causes hassles for payroll and confusion around wages.

It has also meant, for 24 hour production companies, that two shifts of workers are entitled to a day off in lieu instead of one.

While this may be good for workers, for some companies it has meant closing down from midnight-to-midnight to avoid compensating all the workers of two different shifts a day in lieu.

We know this to be the case for both Heinz-Watties in Hastings, and Unilever in Petone – which in practice therefore, turns out to not be so good for workers after all.

The Maori Party is happy to support this Bill as I say.

We consider that costs of time delay and uncertainty need to be addressed immediately, and we are pleased to lend our votes to give effect to this.


ENDS

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