by Denise Roche
Earlier this month the first reading of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill was passed in the House by 61 votes to 58. It’s a bill that drags us back to the nasty employment relations environment of the 1990s and is designed to undermine unions, reduce collective bargaining and as employment law specialists lawyers Buddle Findlay say in their employment law update, the changes are “…the most significant since those made by the last Labour Government in 2004 and favour employers.”
During the bill’s introduction the Minister of Labour Simon Bridges said the bill would provide a ‘level playing field’ between workers and employers during negotiations for worker’s pay and conditions – which makes a complete mockery of the fact that the balance of power between and employer and an employee is rarely weighted in favour of the worker – and that is even more apparent when it’s a new worker desperate for a job and there’s a hundred other people who also want it.
Some of the more obnoxious parts of the bill is that it gets rid of protections for new workers – they won’t be offered the same collective as everyone else when they start; – it makes it harder to bargain across industries with more than one employer; and it removes the duty to conclude collective bargaining.
The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions predicts these changes will mean employers who don’t want to negotiate with unions and their members will pay lip service to the process and just string it out.
We already see that happening in the current environment. We’ve seen it with the Ports of Auckland dispute and the most recent is the Contact Energy Rockgas drivers in Auckland.
The dispute started in February when the 10 or so workers took action just to get their employer to agree to meet with them to negotiate their pay and conditions.
Despite being referred to mediation by the Employment Court the company has either refused to meet or front up and refused to settle because the company representatives have said they don’t have the authority to agree to anything.
The union has based their collective on the company’s individual agreement and the only offers they have received was that the company wanted to have a starting rate less than what new employees currently earn.
Stringing out the dispute is an tactic practised by bad employers. Over the months of the dispute at Rockgas one worker has been fired, and two have resigned and the rest who are currently on strike are being replaced by new workers and people from other parts of the company.
Yesterday the Rockgas drivers took their picket to the office of National Party MP Jamie-Lee Ross to show their opposition to yet another piece of draconian legislation that will undermine worker’s ability to negotiate and settle collective pay and conditions.
Jamie-Lee Ross’s bill will allow striking workers to be replaced during disputes and thus completely destroys the effectiveness of strike action as a back-up for negotiations that stall.
It is a hard decision for workers to go on strike. It is an action of last resort – they don’t get paid while they’re taking industrial action – and to have this final tool taken away from them again favours the employer in disputes and weakens the position of workers during negotiations.