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Union backs removal of Brethren's special status

September 26, 2006

Union backs removal of special treatment for Brethren employers

Withdrawal of special treatment for Exclusive Brethren employers is justified, regardless of issues surrounding their political conduct, says the union which two years ago challenged the practice.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little said that he was pleased that the Green Party – which in 2000 was instrumental in securing the Brethren’s special treatment under the Employment Relations Act – has today announced that it wants it removed. Labour Minister Ruth Dyson has said she will review the clause the next time employment law goes before the Parliament.

Mr Little said that allowing an employer to use his or her religious beliefs to deny workers their right to receive information in the workplace could never be justified.

“In 2004, we became aware that an employer in South Auckland, Fort Richard Laboratories, was threatening to sack immigrant workers for speaking in their own language in the tea room,” he said.

“When our officials went to talk to these workers, the employer used his exemption status to bar the union from the site. He even escorted the workers to their cars so that they couldn’t be approached after work.”

Mr Little said that the special status was a hang-over from the old days of compulsory unionism and conscious objection, and was designed to protect the rights of workers, not employers.

“It allowed workers who were Exclusive Brethren to get an exemption from being forced to join a union,” he said.

“That is quite a different thing from allowing employers who are Exclusive Brethren to deny non-Brethren workers the right to be visited by unions.”

Documents supplied by members of the Exclusive Brethren church stated that their belief in the “divine principles governing the master-servant relationship” meant that the employing of unionised labour is in conflict with their consciences.

Mr Little said that it was a pity that it had taken a political scandal over Exclusive Brethren funding of anonymous political activities, including hiring private detectives to gather information on politicians, to bring the issue into the open.

“In 2004 we lodged a formal complaint about the validity of the Fort Richard Laboratories exemption with the Department of Labour, but the complaint was rejected,” Mr Little said.


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