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Richard Prebble's Letter from Wellington #32

On the day the union promoting Employment Relations Act comes into effect, ACT is releasing an alternative policy - "Freedom to Contract". ACT's policy release is the first by any party for the 2002 election. ACT intends setting the agenda by releasing positive policies to return New Zealand to the first world. People need to know that there is hope. ACT pledges to repeal the Employment Relations Act and replace it with a freedom to contract law that allows employees and employers flexibility to determine an employment relationship that will suit their needs. Judicial activism by the Employment Court has caused the scandal of golden handshakes and a rise in personal grievance cases. ACT proposes to abolish the employment court and tribunal. ACT will review all employment laws, such as the Holidays Act. Full employment and strong growth are dependent on a strong, flexible and responsive employment market. ACT's "Freedom to Contract" will provide this market and create jobs.

Mission Impossible
The new Act is lunacy - lawyer Christine French told Kim Hill this morning that from her experience around half of New Zealand employees have only verbal contracts. Their employers will now be in breach of the law and liable to heavy instant fines if they do not provide a whole range of written material to their employees, including how to get in touch with the relevant union, a plain language explanation of how employment problems are resolved under the Act, a description of the work and a written contract. Realistically this is not going to happen as small businesses are too busy trying to survive to focus on yet another unproductive administrative overhead which benefits neither party. The new law also applies to housekeepers and nannies - the coalition is going to come under heavy fire when middle New Zealand working parents are caught by the Act.

Bank Robber's Promise
Statements by trade union leaders that the unions won't abuse the great powers given to them by the Employment Relations Act are reminiscent of bank robbers waving guns and saying "keep calm, give us your money and no-one will get hurt". ACT is already receiving alarming stories. Last week a union official entered an established Auckland manufacturer. The official produced no identification nor did he give notice. He announced a stop work meeting and halted all production for an hour and a half. The company has never had any industrial trouble until now and says their work force has become split with heavy intimidation being put on non-union staff to join the union. The Letter's advice is for employers to telephone the Labour Department and ask the Employment Relations Authority for a compliance order against the union. It will be interesting to see if 'good faith' works both ways.

Clark's Foreign Policy Disaster
The 9th floor of the Beehive planned Helen Clark's trip last week to be a poll ratings booster, instead it was one of the most unsuccessful foreign trips ever made by a New Zealand Prime Minister. Sports Minister, Trevor Mallard, advised Clark to arrive at the Olympics in the second week when he said New Zealand athletes would be winning medals. Every athlete Clark met not only failed to win, but dramatically failed to reproduce their earlier form. Clark's namesake, up until then the star goalie of women's Olympic hockey, let in seven goals. The Prime Minister's visit reminded commentators of the coalition's far greater support of the arts. Whether Shipley was wise to have revealed the content of talks with Aussie Prime Minister John Howard is debatable. What is not, is that Australia is most unhappy with New Zealand's policy direction, and is feeling very let down. Political commentators have missed the obvious about the visit. John Howard did agree to see Shipley first. He did set out Australia's concerns and, as an experienced politician, he must have expected his remarks to be repeated. Australia is our most important foreign relationship and it has clearly broken down. Helen Clark's visit to East Timor just reminds us that our army is over committed, under resourced and that the Government has no clear exit strategy.

Response To Chapple Report
Ministers are confused as how to respond to the Labour Department report that the gaps are closing and not opening and what gaps there are, are not racial. Academic and Employment Minister Steve Maharey solved the problem by misquoting the report and ignoring the findings. The report is good news and shows that New Zealand is not the unfair nation that Labour campaigned against. U-turns are never easy but successful government's have done so when they realise they are on the wrong path.

NZ Health And Disability Bill
How hard it will be to change direction can be seen from submissions to the Bill to re-organise public health. The Bill is attracting submissions from Maori advocacy groups calling for the Treaty clause to be strengthened. Typical would be Nga Ngaru Hauora O Aotearoa Inc's to, "include Maori appointed Crown Monitors to specifically observe the Treaty of Waitangi principles are being adhered to and policy is being appropriately applied by all of the board in their decision making process." The Letter wonders how many ratepayers of Auckland City know that the council has made a submission supporting including the Treaty clause in the Bill. Political correctness now runs right through both central and local government.

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