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Business NZ policy is "anti freedom"

December 4, 2008

Media Release

Business NZ policy is "anti freedom"

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union national secretary Andrew Little has condemned Business New Zealand's employment briefing to the incoming government as "anti freedom".

The Business NZ briefing includes advice that, if implemented, would contravene International Labour Organisation standards including removing the right to freedom of association and a series of policies that would deny New Zealand workers the basic right to negotiate together.

Little says the policies show Business NZ and its members are focused on increasing profit at the expense of Kiwi workers' rights.

"None of the policy advice they have put forward deals with the importance of a high-skill, high-wage future, instead the briefing indicates a near obsession with removing workers' rights.

"We've worked constructively with Business NZ in the past on issues such as productivity but by promoting policy that attacks our members and every other New Zealand worker they've seriously damaged that good will."

Andrew Little's letter to Phil O'Reilly follows.


Phil O'Reilly

Chief Executive

Business New Zealand

PO Box 1925


Dear Phil

Re: Business NZ Recommendations to Incoming Government

1. I refer to the document headed "Business NZ Recommendations to Incoming Government: Employment Relations." The document is one of a series prepared by Business NZ for the new government with others covering ACC, workforce skills and tertiary education and Globally Competitive firms amongst other things.

2. The briefing on employment relations is a disgrace in this day and age. It purports to seek policies that allow for improved productivity, flexibility, and freedom in the workplace. The recommendations made could not achieve any of these things.

3. Consider the following:

* New Zealand has one of the least regulated labour markets in the OECD. Even Australia, after its brief "Work Choices" foray, has developed highly prescriptive national employment standards

* There is no evidence that legislation covering employment relations, holidays, health and safety and KiwiSaver constrain growth. To the contrary, each of these has been developed in response to the need to modernise the workplace environment and to respond to obvious gaps in previous legislation.

* If, in the Business NZ call to "remove provisions that promote third party interests ahead of employer/employee interests" you are referring to the myriad of consultants and others who routinely obstruct good quality employment relationships, then there is little to disagree with. If, however, this is an old-fashioned reference to unions, which I point out are the product of free choice in this country, then the call by Business NZ is right out of order. In a voluntary unionism environment such as we have in New Zealand the choice by workers to organise amongst themselves and to form and/or belong to a trade union is not a matter of third party interest, it is a matter of the employees expressing and pursuing their collective interests. There is nothing "third party" about it.

* The call for the removal of "the preference for collective bargaining" is misguided. There is no preference for collective bargaining. There are protections in the current law for collective bargaining for those who exercise their freedom of choice to form or belong to a trade union. That is a choice that is easily overborne by the employer's will and needs to be properly protected as it is in many jurisdictions around the world consistent with ILO conventions and guidelines.

* The further call in numbered paragraph 5 of the Employment Relations document to change the focus of part 4 of the Employment Relations Act from recognition and operation of unions to focusing on the right of employees to be represented is another attack on the principles of freedom of association outlined in ILO Convention 87. The recognition of trade unions in current legislation is a recognition of the freedom of choice of workers to belong to trade unions and to have that choice respected and recognised by employers. Sadly, the track record of employers in New Zealand during the 1990's of respecting choices by workers and the role of trade unions is a tawdry one and the current legislation was in response to that appalling track record by many employers in this respect.

* The call of Business NZ in numbered paragraph 10 of its paper to limit rights of access by union officials is a call for limiting the freedom of choice of employees to have access to representatives of their chosen union, and to make access dependent on the availability of management. It is a fundamental denial of employees' freedom of choice and it demonstrates the inherent lack of respect that your organisation clearly has towards union organisation and workers' freedom of choice.

* The calls made in numbered paragraphs 6, 7, 8, 9 and 12 amount to an old-fashioned attack on collective bargaining, the bread and butter of collective organisation of workers and the principal reason why workers join a trade union. It demands of trade unions and their members something that commercial organisations would never tolerate in their own businesses and that is the passing on of benefits captured by those who achieve it to those in the workplace who make no contribution and elect not to be part of a collective endeavour. It is anti freedom of choice.

* The calls by Business NZ for changes to the health and safety legislation, apart from wrongly characterising the nature of the legislation in numbered paragraph 2, call for changes that would set back substantial progress in health and safety improvement over the last 10 or more years.

4. Interestingly, there is nothing in the calls made by Business NZ in any of its recommendations to the incoming government to address the lack of competitiveness of wages and salaries in New Zealand. This is in contrast to the support agreement between the National Party and the ACT party to substantially eliminate the disparity of wage levels between the two countries by 2025. The only thing Business NZ has to say on this point is in its "Workforce Skills and Tertiary Education" document in which it states that increases in the minimum wage "are more likely to harm than help those with fewest skills and may drive a number of them out of work." There is nothing in the work by Business NZ to address the single most important issue confronting the New Zealand workforce, and that is its comparably lower wages.

5. The stance adopted by Business NZ in its recommendations to the government are deeply disappointing when, as an organisation, it stood out under the previous government as demonstrating a constructive approach to employment relations and the development of relevant employment relations policy. After all, Business NZ was fully represented on every consultative group on employment policy, especially the Holidays Act working group. It appears that this approach is now at an end.

6. There is ample research to show that workplace productivity improvement is the result, among other things, of good quality workplace relations in which workers have a voice genuinely independent of the employer with their freedom of choice properly protected and respected. It is deeply disappointing that Business NZ has undergone an apparent reversion to type. Let's hope it is short-lived.

Yours faithfully

Andrew Little

National Secretary

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