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Holidays Amendment Bill

Holidays Amendment Bill

Rahui Katene; MP for Te Tai Tonga

Tuesday 23 November 2010

Mr Speaker, earlier today the Maori Party received an email which told us, in no uncertain terms, exactly how we needed to vote on this Bill.

It said

If we allow workers to covert time to cash then the next obvious step is for employers to say " We are obviously giving too many days holidays, the workers don't need them, the fact that they are selling them is proof in its self".

The people who will sell their holidays are the lowly paid ones who already work the most overtime and who really need the holidays and time with their Whanau. VOTE NO

We have had a very passionate and considered discussion of the issues that have been raised by this legislation.

Let me address each of these issues one by one.

The Bill allows employers and employees to agree to transfer the observance of public holidays to another working day.

We saw this as a very significant advance, in allowing a mechanism by which whanau members could identify days of special cultural significance to them, where they sought leave.

Days like the Hui Ahurei; the Ratana celebrations; the recognition of the 18th day for those from Taranaki iwi.

The opportunity to honour one's cultural and spiritual legacy is something that we supported.

But what this Bill then does, is to twist this opportunity, by stipulating that should the employer and employee not reach an agreement; then the employers should direct when an alternative holiday is taken.

The Bill allows employers to request proof of sickness or injury within the first three consecutive calendar days of an employee taking sick leave without first having reasonable grounds to suspect that the sick leave is not genuine.

While we would be the first to argue for transparency and accountability as a core principle of any employment relationship, we cannot fail but be influenced by the statements made by the New Zealand Nurses Organisation and the New Zealand Educational Institute, speaking on behalf of some 46000 nurses and 50,000 educa6ion staff in primary schools and early childhood centres.

It was their collective view that the new law has implications for children's health and welfare. They suggest that the new law may mean that parents who use their own sick leave to care for their children, are less likely to stay home with their children if they fear that doing so will put their employment at risk. This could result in more ill children attending schools and kohanga - the implications of that being obvious.

They also pointed out that New Zealand law currently provides for five sick days leave a year - one of the lowest rates in the OECD. Further to that, New Zealanders currently take on average 4.6 days sick leave a year compared with 7.4 days in Britain and 8.6 sick days in Australia.

So you could take that from that - either we are a lot more sturdy in New Zealand than our British and Australian counterparts - or that we drag ourselves to work, at varying stages of illhealth - simply because our leave restrictions are so harsh.

Another component of the Bill is that it allows by agreement, one week of an employee's minimum entitlement to annual holidays to be commuted for a cash payment to the employee.

This is a difficult one for us. We know that some of our members are faced with such difficult and compromised financial constraints, that the opportunity to cash in their holiday leave might just well be the respite that they need to help ease the grind of every day poverty.

But we cannot reconcile the fact that we firmly believe that every worker has the right to rest and recreation. They have the right not to be working every hour of the day; every day of the week. They have the right to enjoy being with their whanau.

And so, we firmly believe it is the right thing to do, to support employment legislation which promotes opportunities for employees to be with their families and to benefit from rest.

We are also influenced by a view which came forward to the select committee, which was that there are no safeguards with this proposal against employers yielding undue pressure on an employee to cash up their leave and sell their holiday away.

We did give this Bill the benefit of the doubt in previous stages of this legislation.

However, at the third and final reading, we are simply faced with too many questions to be able to satisfy our concerns.

We believe, on balance, that this legislation should not be supported, and we therefore will be voting against this Bill.


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