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Employment law reforms worse than anticipated

Media statement
Thursday, December 4th, 2003

Employment law reforms worse than anticipated

The Employment Relations Law Reform Bill represents an erosion of basic freedoms and a huge boost to the state funding of trade unions, the Employers & Manufacturers Association (Northern) says.

"The law changes will lead to interminable misunderstandings, wrangles and confusion," said Peter Tritt, EMA's Manager of Advisory Services.

"The reforms include a major departure of good faith bargaining as practiced overseas. Allowing a state agency to determine employment conditions is a case of New Zealand again presuming to 'lead the world'.

"The Bill has several elements which discriminate against people on the basis of their union membership. This is illogical and inconsistent.

"Introducing pay claims on the basis of gender in this Bill is an example of the Minister of Labour's arrogance; pay equity is the subject of a separate review and to sneak it in here without consultation simply undermines the credibility of the law making process.

"There's a long list of reforms in the Bill too numerous to list; major examples are:

"The basic right of freedom of association is seriously undermined by the Bill. The rights of individuals to belong, or not belong to a union comes under threat.

"Likewise employers' ability to treat all their employees fairly and equally, regardless of their union status, is under threat.

"Employers who pass on wage increases to non union workers will be held in breach of good faith and subject to a penalty. Ominously, unions must be consulted where individuals on individual agreements are employed, and a code of employment practice is to be introduced.

"The freedom of speech by employers to declare their bargaining preference will be removed.

"Employers will have to pay wages for the time their employees spend talking to union representatives.

"Employers will have to provide for the deduction of union fees even if their employees are not in a collective agreement.

"The state sector's illegal bonus payments to state workers who belong to unions are to be legitimised.

"The Employment Relations Authority will be empowered to intervene on the terms and conditions of collective employment agreements in the event that a breach of good faith is 'serious' and 'sustained'.

"The Employment Relations Authority, a third party, is to be empowered to make recommendations to employers on their work practices.

"A requirement is to be introduced that at least one meeting must be held when unions pursue a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA). The Employment Relations Authority is to be empowered to facilitate the formation of MECA's.

"Court of Appeal case law on the tests to be applied in dismissal cases is to be overturned.

"A new prescriptive requirement is to be required in all agreements for what happens in the event of the sale of a business or contracting out of work, not just in collective agreements as at present.

"In the event of a sale of a business or the contracting out process, certain 'vulnerable employees' are to be defined in particular industries for the purpose of special entitlements. Cabinet will be able to decree additions to this list. These industries are:

* cleaning services or food services

* laundry services or orderly services for the age-related residential care sector

* laundry services for the education and health sectors

* orderly services for the health sector

* caretaking for the education sector

"A duty of good faith is to be applied to gender-based pay equity claims made against employers. Labour inspectors will investigate

these and the Employment Relations Authority or Human Rights Review Tribunal will adjudicate them.

"Employment Relations Education Leave is extended to all union members, not only those covered by collectives as at present, which represents a boost to the mechanism for the state funding of unions."


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