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Employment Law And Government Greed - Oped

Employment Law And Government Greed
By Peter Dunne
Leader, United Future New Zealand

Careful consideration of the Minister of Labour’s proposed changes to our employment laws forces me to the belief that the Government has just become too greedy.

The pity of this greed is that New Zealand will continue to see the pendulum of changes to the industrial environment continue to oscillate widely as our governments come and go.

The workplace is just too important to the general well-being of New Zealanders, and our society, for it to be made the plaything of the shifting winds of political fashion and expediency.

When the National Government brought in the Employment Contracts Act, the predictions of disaster and apocalyptic destruction of all that was good in New Zealand society were loud and long.

Certainly, the consequences for the majority of the country’s many unions were damaging as membership not merely plummeted, but simply evaporated. Since there was not an immediate upsurge in child labour and slave labour conditions in New Zealand, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the unions that vanished had simply outlived their usefulness.

Workers adapted to the concept of individual employment contracts, and despite the lamenting of the unions that collective bargaining arrangements had declined dramatically, the sky obstinately refused to fall in.

Nevertheless, when the Clark Labour Government was elected, ideology demanded that changes be made, whether they were necessary or not. Thus, we saw the concept of ‘good faith’ bargaining introduced and the even stranger concept of the employer being responsible for the employees’ stress levels, whether they were caused at work or elsewhere.

Predictably, the outcry this time came from the employers who also claimed the roof would fall in on New Zealand society, and we’d all be driven overseas or else forced to take in each others’ washing just to make a living.

The sky has continued its obdurate determination to remain in place.

A rational person, you might think, would pause at this stage, reflect on the advances made, the uproar and turmoil that has been generated and let things alone for a while.

But the Left is not always noted for being rational and we now see yet more amendments proposed to the Employment Relations Act. It’s claimed they are intended to make our industrial relations friendlier, easier and smoother.

It’s hard to see how that can happen when the changes appear to make relationships more adversarial and rely greatly on rigid processes, compulsion and heavier penalties.

The changes favour unions heavily and severely disadvantage the employer. It is hard to see them as sensible, practical contributions to the betterment of our industrial relations. Rather they seem to spring from a flawed analysis of the real problems in the New Zealand workplace and a desire to drive New Zealand workers into unions, even when the workers plainly demonstrate they don’t want to join up.

These proposed changes are a classic example of the Government going too far, getting too greedy and adding to the growing perception that some politicians believe they know what’s best for New Zealand workers and will force change, even where it’s not wanted.

It is the start of the slippery electoral slope – which Labour should take note of.

Worse for the country is that it starts off the industrial relations merry-go-round all over once more, and simply invites the next government to carry on the game of industrial ping-pong that has divided our country since 1951.


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