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Employers Federation Clarifies Misleading Comments

Following a series of misleading statements quoted in both written and electronic media, the Employers' Federation has today forwarded the attached two communications to the Labour Party.

The first letter to The Rt Hon Helen Clark outlines the facts related to exchanges at the recent Employers' Federation Leaders' Conference which have either been subsequently misunderstood or misconstrued.

The Federation takes seriously its responsibility to correctly analyse political parties' policy, to benchmark same against its own developed policy, and to encourage debate on the implications of policy, good and bad, as they affect employers, employees and employment.

If the public statements of politicians indicate a change in policy it is important that those statements be clarified. In this instance Ms Clark's statement that the position of workers in a collective contract, not represented by a union, would not change under Labour's policy, was important. It would have been welcomed as a positive move by both employers and employees, particularly those who want to have a collective contract but do not want to be part of a union in order to do so.

Subsequent discussion with Ms Clark and other senior party members clarified that unfortunately such a change in approach was not intended. They confirmed that non-union workers would not be able to continue to have their conditions of employment provided through an enforceable collective contract.

The second letter to Hon Dr Michael Cullen refers to his statement in The Dominion of 27 August 1999 that Ms Anne Knowles has told lies about Labour's policy on secondary strikes.

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The Federation, its officers and staff, including Ms Knowles, have never stated that Labour's policy would legitimise or allow secondary or sympathy strikes - even though the New Zealand Council of Trade Union sponsored Workplace Relations Bill, on which much of Labour's policy is based, does propose such legitimisation.

We have asked Dr Cullen to reconsider his comments in light of the information provided.

Steve Marshall
Chief Executive
New Zealand Employers' Federation


27 August 1999

The Right Honourable Helen Clark
Leader of the Opposition
Parliament Buildings

Dear Ms Clark

It would appear that a lack of understanding of the facts as they relate to this Federation's actions and statements have led to things getting out of hand.

The Employers' Federation is at all times driven by its own policy, we are apolitical in our pursuit of that policy, and have no desire to become embroiled in party political debate.

The unfortunate occurrence of Dr Cullen's suspension from the House appears to be related to misunderstandings stemming from events at the Federation's Leaders' Conference - events which I understand you were also displeased with.

For these reasons I outline the factual situation.

On the completion of your speech to our Conference you were asked the following question:

".... we have another case where in fact we have groups of workers who are covered by collective contracts whereby there is no union representation and nor are they actually represented by the union. Would that situation continue?"

Your response was:

"Yes, it would. Yes, it would. Because in effect a bargaining agent has negotiated agreements covering those workers so there is nothing in what we are saying that changes that."

This response was either a complete misunderstanding of the question or was a change in policy position which would have been welcomed by the Federation and its members.

I immediately communicated with Pete Hodgson (also present at the Conference) indicating that this position required clarification. He asked me to wait until you came down from the dais.

2 - On your return to your table it was confirmed in discussion between yourself, Pete Hodgson, Anne Knowles and myself that:

In the circumstance of the question:

1. The workers concerned could only have an enforceable collective contract if they joined a union or were able to form their own union.

2. The workers concerned could negotiate collectively without union membership or representation but the result would be a series of likely identical individual contracts - not a collective contract.

You will recall that we advised that this outcome would appear to remove from those workers certain rights - including the right to strike.

It was our judgement that Conference participants should not leave the Conference with any misunderstanding as to the application of Labour's policy as it currently stands. Accordingly, Anne Knowles, as the chairperson of the next session, was asked by myself to clarify the position in light of our subsequent discussion.

At the commencement of Anne's session she advised the Conference as follows:

"Another point that after discussion with Helen Clark there are two points of correction from Ms Clark's speech that really does need to be clarified so that you understand the position. In response to the question on collective contracting whether that can be done by a group that doesn't have a union involved - that will not have the outcome of being a collective contract. It will be a grouping on individual contracts, it will not be a collective contract in the terms of the Labour party's policy.

The other question with regard to experience rating. The policy that Labour has on that is that the experience rating system as has previously been under the old ACC regime will not be continued but there will be some form of risk rating to replace that and it will be on a class/category basis. So those two points I think are important to have clarified at this stage."

Statements in quotations are direct transcripts from the Conference tape.

As you are aware we have been in regular discussion with Mr Hodgson and other senior members of your team on these and related matters for some months.

We have consistently expressed concern at the potential inflexibilities which would be introduced by reinstitutionalising union monopoly rights in collective bargaining. We have similarly expressed concern that the application of those union rights in denying non-union members the right to have a legally recognised collective contract is against the principles of freedom of association.

3 - In respect to the reported exchange between Sir William Birch and Dr Michael Cullen in the House, I wish to put on record that this Federation, its officers or staff, have never indicated or implied that Labour's policy would legitimise secondary or sympathy strikes. To our knowledge it does not, although the NZCTU-sponsored Workplace Relations Bill, which we understand will be a basis for much of Labour's policy, does. Our concern has been the clear policy to legitimise strikes in pursuit of multi-employer collective contracts.

I have consequently written separately to Dr Cullen asking if he would reconsider his comments in light of the information provided.

I hope this communication clarifies the facts and assures the Labour Party that our concerns relate to policy and not politics.

Yours sincerely

Steve Marshall


27 August 1999

Hon Dr Michael Cullen
Labour Finance Spokesperson
Parliament Buildings

Dear Dr Cullen

The Dominion newspaper of today reported on the circumstance of your suspension from Parliament yesterday. In that report you are quoted as saying in the House:

". . . there has to be some factual basis for answers. Since both the leader of the Labour Party and myself have specifically denied the legislation will allow secondary strikes he should stop repeating [Employers Federation deputy chief executive] Anne Knowles's lies."

This Federation, its officers and staff have never stated or implied that Labour's policy, as we understand it, legitimises or allows secondary strikes. To our knowledge it does not, although the NZCTU-sponsored Workplace Relations Bill, which we understand will be a basis for much of Labour's policy, does.

I attach a copy of a letter sent today to The Right Honourable Helen Clark which lays out the factual events of our Conference, the misconstrual of which seems to have had some influence on later events.

In light of the information provided we are interested to know whether you would be prepared to reconsider your comments.

Yours sincerely

Steve Marshall

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