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ER Bill for incompetent employers?

Expert: Is the ER Amendment Bill another hand up for incompetent employers?

The second reading of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No. 2) brings New Zealand another step closer to an American ‘hire-and-fire’ model, suggests an employment relations expert.

Professor Erling Rasmussen, AUT Professor of Employment Relations, says it looks like the National-led government will push through a possible reduction in job security for all new employees in New Zealand.

“Parliament’s debate of the controversial changes to the Employment Relations Act, foreshadowed in John Key’s announcement to the National Party’s annual conference in July 2010, indicates that the National-led government is determined to push through legislative changes which will take away the personal grievance rights of a large proportion of the New Zealand workforce,” he says.

“The personal grievance rights of all new employees in New Zealand could be affected.”

He adds that it is difficult to see how this will improve the productive employment relationships of well-organised employers.

“This appears to be a clear hand up for disorganised, incompetent employers,” he says. “This is not just a whittling away of employee rights; it heralds a fundamental shift in employer-employee relationships in New Zealand workplaces.”

Professor Rasmussen says this will most impact the low end of the labour market, with a disproportionate influence on young people, women, ethnic groups, low skilled people and people disadvantaged in the labour market.

This is not a trivial change to employment relations, he adds.

”Even under the Employment Contracts Act 1991, this was not feasible option for low paying, high turnover employers,” says Professor Rasmussen.

“In fact, changes will influence a considerable portion of the New Zealand labour market, with some commentators suggesting that there are nearly half a million of employees in new jobs every year.”

He adds that some sectors which already experience high staff turnover will see many employees frequently without job security.

The Parliamentary debate of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No. 2) shows this is a debate of differing ideologies, says Professor Rasmussen.

“This is more than just an amendment,” he says. “It it goes to the heart of fairness in the workplace.

“It cuts across the main objectives of the Employment Relations Act 2000, which promotes collective bargaining, good faith and protection of individual employee rights.

“The Act had an emphasis on ‘acknowledging and addressing the inherent inequality of bargaining power in employment relationships’, and this is clearly no longer the case when employers can dismiss employees without right or reason.

He adds employers do not even have to inform employees of why they are being dismissed.

Professor Rasmussen says as the parliamentary debate rolls on, there will also be changes to union access rights, holiday entitlements and sick leave regulations.


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