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Mallard: Labour - Keeping workers' rights safe

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister of Labour
MP for Hutt South

16 October 2008 Media Statement
Embargoed until midday
Labour: Keeping workers' rights safe

Labour Minister Hon Trevor Mallard speech to the National Distribution Union labour relations election forum, Alexandra Park Raceway, Auckland.

Labour is proud to be the workers’ party, we are proud of our record in making the lives of workers better, and we are proud there are so many more workers under our government.

We have achieved a lot, but there is a lot left to do in terms of improving the lives of hard-working Kiwis. We have the plan to do this, and under Helen's leadership we can be trusted to deliver.

In this election it is important to remember that when it comes to the opposition, they have always been anti-worker.

National has attacked every major Labour policy aimed at making life better for working New Zealanders.

They voted against KiwiSaver, and John Key has now confirmed that he has no serious plan or vision for New Zealand's future with his staggering promise to totally gut this groundbreaking savings scheme in favour of tax cuts for New Zealand's high income earners.

Saving and investing for a safe future under Labour would go out the window under John Key – as he raids our piggy banks for short term gains.

In one foul swoop (and I do mean foul) he has signaled his intention to throw out two key policies which would have actually helped cement in the conditions for New Zealand's economic transformation into an innovative and high wage economy. And he has recklessly done this at a time of international financial crisis - when sound and forward looking growth policies are needed the most.

KiwiSaver is aimed at improving our savings record, and helping deepen our capital markets, and the research and development tax credit helps keep innovative companies onshore. Already we are hearing signals from businesses on the ground that they may move to countries where R and D credits are bedded in.

John Key's wrecking of KiwiSaver essentially means that all those now in KiwiSaver – around 800,000 people - will all be worse off under National.

KiwiSavers under John Key should forget about having enough in their KiwiSaver account to put down a decent deposit on their first house.

And in retirement the effect is truly ghastly under John Key's plan.

A $50,000 salary earner saving into KiwiSaver for 15 years would have $37,283 less in their nest egg for retirement. If that person saved for 30 years, they would be $108,547 worse off than under Labour.

His proposed changes would also result in workers paying for the employer contribution by forgoing wage rises – a dodgy practice that we put a stop to recently through an amendment to the Employment Relations Act.

John Key's approach would encourage employers to say they won't increase your pay because they have to contribute 2 per cent to KiwiSaver. So you get to pay your own KiwiSaver contribution AND the employers contribution.

This is hardly surprising. National voted against Working for Families, cheaper doctor visits, 20 hours free early childhood education, and against the raised trainee minimum wage.

They opposed the Employment Relations Act, they opposed the Holiday's Amendments Act, they opposed the introduction of paid parental leave and subsequent expansion of the scheme, and they opposed all increases to the minimum wage.

Any flip flops on these issues can not be taken seriously and trusted.

Here is what working New Zealanders face with John Key at the helm.

National sees the fourth week of annual leave as a compliance cost, as a scheduling problem and as something that can be traded away.

Labour believes that everyone is entitled to rest, time with family and time to pursue interests outside of work.

Under John Key, workers may be forced in to accepting more hours away from their family – and trading in that fourth week - in order to get the job.

Under our government, employers cannot bring in new staff to cover duties normally performed by striking workers.

But under National, this would be repealed and employers discouraged from completing collective negotiations.

Under John Key you can also forget your right to due process and good faith in the workplace.

After all, this is the self described "Smiling Assassin" who apparently axed around 500 jobs for Merrill Lynch in Sydney as part of savage worldwide retrenchment by the bank. He's freely admitted to having no feelings over doing that to people.

So what would happen when it comes to sackings under National?

There are, importantly, strict procedures around dismissal of an employee, but under National, an employer’s failure to meet with those procedures would not be fatal to the dismissal process.

That’s hardly fair, when your livelihood is at stake.

Job security would be a thing of the past under National.

Labour believes in certainty and security in employment, but under National, fixed-term contracts would be supported.

In conjunction with their fire-at-will policy and their policy of removing your right to due process, workers could be faced with having to accept fixed-term contracts, and possibly 90 day contracts.

Their fire-at-will policy means that employees during the probationary period would have none of the protections that they currently have under the Employment Relations Act. Vulnerable, low skill and low wage workers will be at the greatest risk.

It won’t pay to be sick under John Key as National believes that workers should be paid at a lower rate than the standard rate of pay because it is a compliance cost for employers.

But Labour believes that when you’re sick, you should be able to recover knowing you can pay the bills.

Under National, unions are ok, just not ok at work. National would restrict the access unions currently have to the workplace as they believe this to be inhibiting productivity in the workplace.

They would also allow for union-bargained conditions to be available to those who don’t pay union fees – so people can freeload off the work and effort the union and its members do.

Labour will ensure that only union members can obtain the benefits of union-negotiated agreements.

Labour, unlike National, believes that Multi Employer Collective Agreements (MECAs) are a legitimate means of addressing fairness and balance in the workplace and we will shortly announce details of how we intend to do that.

As you all know, Helen at Labour's campaign launch on Sunday released an economic plan designed to lead New Zealand to strong growth and a secure future in these tough international conditions.

While John Key embarrassed himself by not having anything new to say on the global financial crisis – and by having the gall to attack us at the same time, Helen was busy getting on with the job and cutting to the chase.

Our Prime Minister demonstrated once again her leadership, skills and knowledge and sound judgment in the face of incredibly challenging international events.

As she and Michael announced, the government is to implement a deposit guarantee scheme to protect people's savings. This immediate protection sits on top of substantial plans for short to long term economic growth and investment and extra economic stimulus through bringing forward infrastructure spending - should it be required - during the global economic crisis.

As part of this plan for further improvements and change, our agenda for the workplace is ongoing and it starts with education and skills training – as we know that if we are to raise our living standards and move to a high wage and innovative economy, improving the skills of our workforce is critical.

Helen has announced we will add another 1,000 places to the Modern Apprenticeship scheme each year, to reach 17,000 Modern Apprentices in training by 2011.

We will lift the target for the number of people in industry training to ten per cent of the work force, or approximately 230,000 people, by 2011.

We will introduce another retraining allowance for those who have been in the workforce for ten years and wish to upgrade their skills or retrain in a new area.

We will introduce a new retraining allowance on the same basis as a student allowance, but with no spousal income test, for redundant workers who have been in the workforce at least five years.

Last week I released a report from the Public Advisory Group on Restructuring and Redundancy which recommended a statutory minimum for redundancy compensation and notice periods.

Our government agrees and we intend to definitely consult on options for this and a statutory minimum notice period next year.

The current law offers no statutory protections in this area, unless they were provided in their employment agreement. Introducing a minimum floor for redundancy compensation and notice would also bring New Zealand’s legal protections in to line with international trends.

I just want to close by reminding people of what has been achieved for ordinary working New Zealanders in the last nine years.

We got rid of the Employment Contracts Act. We have increased the minimum wage every year since 1999 and lifted the minimum adult wage by 71 per cent ($5.00) so it's now $12 per hour. Youth rates have also increased, to $9 an hour.

We will continue to use increases in the minimum wage as a way of helping the lowest paid in society.

As Michael announced on Tuesday, Labour will guarantee annual adjustments to the minimum wage during the next term of government, so that the minimum wage at least keeps pace with increases in the average wage or the consumer price index, whichever is the greater.

We know there have been calls to raise the minimum to $15 an hour and we are listening – we would like to meet this target if possible, but in the current economic circumstances, we are not able to commit to doing so.

With our support partners, Labour introduced and then extended paid parental leave in duration and to the self-employed. Labour is committed to ongoing reviews and improvements to paid parental leave.

We also brought in a fourth week annual leave (the one John Key wants to take back) and flexible work arrangements.

Workers’ rights to basic and minimum meal and rest and breastfeeding breaks have been put into law and come into effect next April.

Protections for casual and temporary workers have also been introduced to Parliament

And average household incomes have gone up in real terms by 25 per cent.

Finally let me close by discussing the issue of lifting productivity.

Labour believes very firmly in the importance of constructive partnerships between employers and employees to drive higher wages and lift productivity.
Higher wages are not only good for workers and their families – but they are
also a key factor in incentivising employers and businesses to upskill and
train their staff, and to invest in capital equipment to support a more
skilled workforce, and to enhance management skills, and workplace practice.

KiwiSaver is an example of one of the ways productivity can be enhanced, as it creates domestic capital investment pool to help business.

Our massive investment in skills and industry training and policies like Schools Plus are also critical parts of this programme.

In short, Labour has an impressive record of delivering significant improvements to the lives of working New Zealanders and we have more to do and we can be trusted to do it.


ENDS

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