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The Green Party Advocates Continuity of Employment

The Green Party Advocates For Continuity Of Employment For Low Paid Workers

Extracts from Sue Bradford's Second Reading Speech on the Employment Relations Bill - Tuesday 8 August 2000

I'd like to make it clear that the Green Party's publicly stated policy before, during and after last year's election campaign has always been to work with Labour and the Alliance to overturn the worst features of the Employment Contracts Act as soon as possible, and to support fairer alternative legislation. Having led demonstrations against the ECA and the benefit cuts in 1991, and seen at first hand the devastating effects of those policies on thousands of people over the last nine years, I am honoured to stand here today and pledge the Green Party's continued support to a Bill which will make New Zealand not only a better place to work, but also a better place to do business.

I'd like to signal the intention of the Green Party to move a small number of amendments to the Bill. One of the key proposals we are putting forward is supported by a number of submitters including the CTU and the Trade Union Federation, and calls for workers to have the right to strike on significant social, environmental and political issues. We believe that this is a fundamental democratic right, linked to the recognition that workers are human beings, not mere commodities in the marketplace. The right to withdraw labour is a matter of individual choice, not taken lightly. If New Zealand is to become a signatory to ILO Convention 87, the Government must give consideration to supporting the Green Party's amendment to allow a broader right to strike.

I know there are many members of the Labour and Alliance parties who are proud of their own involvement in industrial action including strikes, pickets and boycotts over issues such as the 1981 Springbok Tour and the campaign to keep nuclear warships out of our waters. And recently I think such members would have had difficulty in their heart of hearts in denying support for union actions in solidarity with the East Timorese and Fijian peoples' struggles for peace and democracy.

I ask these Government members to reconsider their opposition to the extension of the right to strike, and to vote in consciousness of their own proud labour history, rather than accepting the compromise represented by the Bill in its current form.

Another amendment where I again seek support from the Government benches and NZ First - and from other parties if they'd like to surprise us - is for a new clause 66 relating to the situation of workers in the service sector whose jobs keep being sold out from under them, with resulting losses of jobs and/or conditions and pay. I am all too aware of the controversy surrounding this clause, and of repeated Government assurances that something will be done about it at a later date.

However, we have come back with a new version of clause 66 which I believe narrows down the parameters so it is not the kind of catch-all clause which has been criticised by employers, opposition parties and Government alike.

Our intention with the revised amendment is to cover workers who are employed as cleaners, catering and laundry workers, security guards and grounds workers in places like commercial buildings, airports, tertiary institutions, hospitals and rest homes. The new clause is an ingenious solution to the problems that contract workers face when the existing provider of one of these services lose the contract - usually through a competitive tendering process - to another service provider. The aim is to provide protection for workers' jobs, pay and conditions in this situation. We seek to ameliorate the contracting culture which sees contractors making successful bids for tenders by one means only - maintaining their profit margin and winning contracts by cutting wages and conditions of a predominantly female and Pacific Island labour force already struggling to support their families with some sense of dignity and pride.

If this Government is serious about ending the worst facets of life under the ECA it must give serious consideration to supporting our amended clause 66. It is not good enough to wait until a Minimum Code comes about some time in the future - for a start none of us knows when this will actually happen, and secondly, workers need protection now, not in some far off time to come.

Which brings me to a final point - as most workers, unions and members of the public understand, the Employment Relations Bill will in itself, be of only limited use to many of the most defenceless workers. The vast majority of workers are not unionised, and many are in scattered workplaces or casualised jobs. Young people, women, and Maori, Pacific Island and migrant workers in general are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. For this reason it is imperative that the development of a sound and comprehensive Minimum Code becomes a top priority for the Government's legislative agenda. Workers need safeguards in relation to minimum wages, minimum holidays, paid parental leave and other equal employment opportunity protections, and attention also needs to be given to increased security for part time and casual workers.

I sincerely hope that the passing of the Employment Relations Bill won't see the Government resting on its laurels, but rather working comprehensively on a sound Minimum Code. I also hope that the Government will seriously reconsider its stance on Clause 66, and vote for our amendment which will bring back protection and respect for some of the most exploited workers in Aotearoa.

Sue Bradford moves the Green's amended Clause 66 - Thursday August 10

I would like to address clause 66, which, as we all know, has been one of the most controversial clauses in the bill. We realise that the first version of this clause that was in the bill - and it was opposed by many submitters - was not up to the task. It was confusing, it did draw too long a bow, and it would have caught many employers into the net, which the Government had not intended. The Green Party has persisted throughout the Select committee process in trying to find a clause 66 that would do the job without creating the problems that the employers referred to. The fourth of our attempts for this is now on the table before the House on our Supplementary Order Paper.

We believe that this clause, as amended, is now in a form that will deal directly with those we are concerned about - that is, some of the most vulnerable and exploited workers in New Zealand today, such as cleaners, catering workers, security guards, ground maintenance workers; those people whose jobs have been sold out from under them over and over again during the Employment Contracts Act era. We do not think that this clause as amended now will draw too many other people into the net without meaning to, and I certainly ask Labour and the Alliance to reconsider their continued opposition to our attempts to get this clause of Transfer of Undertakings and continuity of employment into the Bill.

These workers are not highly paid. Many of them are Maori and Pacific Island workers whose families depend on their low wages. Often when their employer loses the contract, another employer takes over, and jobs are lost, or even if the jobs are maintained, the wages and conditions are driven down. My clause will require incoming service providers to continue to employ these workers on their current terms and conditions. Without my amendment we can expect to see cleaners working on one site, for example, with four different employers in five years - a situation that often arises.

I have heard a lot from the Government about unintended effects and so we have looked closely at what has happened in similar Transfer of Undertakings legislation in the UK and Canada. The legislation is working in those countries without dire consequences. If the Government had the courage it could see fit to support this clause. We are being told that the Government will consider it in the Minimum Code, but we have no guarantees, (a) that the Minimum Code will ever happen during this term of Government; and (b) there is no guarantee that it will contain a Transfer of Undertakings clause in a satisfactory form, given all the to-ing and fro-ing there has been over it in the last four months. But in saying that, I hope that the feelings that have been evidenced over the last four months from the unions and workers concerned, will cause the Government to make the Minimum Code happen with all due haste.

Finally, I would like to address Mr Peter Brown's amendment to clause 66. Having listened to his pleas for our support to his amendment, I would like to say that the Green Party cannot support it, because it does not do the job. It is not a continuity of employment clause.

Rod Donald urges the Government to have a change of heart

Throughout the process of the bill the Green Party has listened to the arguments of submitters on their merits. We have not been captured by any interest group, whether it is independent contractors, the Brethren church, bus operators, or the Council of Trade Unions. We have listened very carefully to their arguments, and we have acted accordingly.

We took to heart the plea made by the Council of Trade Unions to support vulnerable contract workers when they remain in the same location, performing the same work, but their employer keeps changing. Sue Bradford and our research staff worked long and hard to develop a better clause 66. I would like to congratulate them for the result. It is an excellent amendment, and one that the government ought to support.

I know that the Government has said that it will do it later in the Minimum Code, but it is simply not good enough to delay clause 66, until the Minimum Code comes in. Labour's election policy is unequivocal. I would like to quote their Minimum Code policy: "Where a business or parts of a business are transferred to a new owner the original employees have a right to be employed on terms and conditions no less favourable than those applying before the transfer, and their service should be deemed to be continuous."

We entirely agree. If the bill is to have a heart it needs a continuity of employment clause to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation. Jim Anderton often says - or he certainly said when I was in the Alliance caucus - that he judged a society by how well it protected its most vulnerable. This bill will be judged on that basis. Lack of time is not an adequate excuse for not having a robust clause 66. It was obvious three years ago that National would lose the last election. Labour and the Alliance had plenty of time to work on this legislation. Labour and the Alliance are full of MPs committed to working people in New Zealand. No fewer than 21 were former union employees, officials or delegates, before coming to Parliament.

Seven of them worked for the Service and Foodworkers Union and its predecessors, including Rick Barker, a former national secretary, Lianne Dalziel, Phillip Field, Mark Gosche, Willie Jackson, Mark Peck and Matt Robson. They have all worked for the union that the Greens have worked closely with to develop our amendment because the government would not do what everyone reasonably expected of it.

Why would we expect Labour and the Alliance to support the transfer of an undertakings clause? Not just because it is in Labour and the Alliance policy, or that some of their MPs are former union officials, but because people like Mark Peck, a union official from 1997 to 1993, in all genuineness said in his maiden speech: "I represented workers in the service sector in hotels, restaurants, hospitals, schools, and offices." I ask him to please represent them now.

Even the Minister said that she would welcome a Supplementary Order Paper that enhances the rights of vulnerable workers without restricting the enterprise of good employers. We have offered the Minister such an amendment, and we ask her to reconsider her opposition to it.

* Keith Locke reinforces the need for worker protection

I thank Peter Brown for saying in his speech earlier that his party will support Sue Bradford's amendment inserting a new clause 66. I would like to explain why this amendment is so important. It is because there is a drive towards contracting out, particularly to the disadvantaged of people in areas of relatively unskilled work and areas where there is a surplus of people seeking work. It is often in big institutions like hotels and hospitals, and often involves domestic staff and cleaning staff.

What those institutions are doing is a cost-cutting exercise through contracting out work, and, of course, the main cost in something like domestic service is in wages. We saw that last year at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Auckland, where the workers employed by the hotel had been on a collective contract, when suddenly the hotel decided to contract out their work. In spite of vigorous action by the workers - a strike, and a court case where they made some gains, they were forced to accept the conditions of the new contractor, which involved reduced wages and reduced conditions. The union activists on that job site were not given jobs under the new contractor.

There was also the case of the Ranfurly Home in Auckland where the work was contracted out. Again, the domestic staff had lower rates of pay, had less hours of work, and redundancy provisions did not exist under the new contractor, and half the staff lost their jobs. As a result of that there was a speed-up of work in that home for domestic staff.

What is happening is a move on the part of many workers from secure full-time employment where they work directly for the institution, such as a hotel or a hospital, where they are often unionised, to a situation under a contract where they are often part-time workers, casualised, and insecure in their work. They often become more insecure as the contract is passed from contractor to contractor and often wages and conditions are ratcheted down in the process because they are at the mercy of the new contractor. At a hospital in the South Island one of the cooks said that he has been under several contractors, Advanced Foods, Fisher Services, Crothalls and Spotless and he has ended up now with P & O and is losing $100 a week in wages in the process.

That is why we need clause 66 to guarantee security of employment and the conditions of work that those workers have maintained in the past under the contractor on to the new contractor. Another thing that often goes when people move from contractor to contractor is entitlements that have been built up, entitlements for length of service, special leave that has been built up, and redundancy provisions that are sometimes dependent on length of service. They can go when workers move from contractor to contractor. There is also the problem of liquidation of a company, For instance, when Tempo Health Services went into liquidation the workers involved received only a fraction of their redundancy, often lost their jobs, or were shifted on to worse contracts.

Clause 66 is something for the workers who are amongst the poorest in New Zealand, the most vulnerable workers, the workers who find it most difficult to have union protection. This bill offers them that protection so they can stay together, keep their employment and retain their conditions. I would ask all parties in particular Labour and the Alliance who have put forward this bill, along with Peter Brown, to support the amendment to clause 66.

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