by Denise Roche
Today I attended the Auckland rally organised by trade unions in response to the latest moves from the government to drive down wages.
Union members from the both the traditional white collar and blue collar industries – from the Public Service Association and the teachers unions to the Service and Food Workers union and the Engineers union) turned up to the one hour rally in their thousands to voice their concern about the legislation that the government has introduced that will undermine union rights and collective bargaining in New Zealand.
The Employment Relations Amendment bill introduces a raft of changes to collective bargaining that will effectively drag us back in time to the 1991 Employment Contract Act where enterprise-based bargaining replaced industry-wide standards and individual bargaining replaced collective bargaining in many workplaces across the country.
The legislation includes restrictions on collective bargaining and removes the duty to conclude – which means that employers can start negotiations with no intention of finishing them. It also undermines the few industry standards that we have in Multi-Employer Collective Agreements by allowing employers to withdraw from them.
And worryingly it removes the protection offered to new workers with the removal of the 30-day rule which meant that in workplaces with a collective employment agreement the collective would be offered to the new employee and they had 30 days to decide if they wanted to stay on it and join the union or negotiate for themselves. Now New Zealand workers face the 90-day-trial laws introduced last term by the government that means workers can be sacked for no reason within their first 90 days of work and youth rates. Not to forget the fact there are thousands ‘job-seekers’ created by the recent welfare reforms which means they are desperate to get a job. Combined this all adds up to a climate where workers will become increasingly compliant and take what they can get even if it does undercut other workers.
CTU President Helen Kelly outlined these aspects – and the other parts of the legislation that remove the only job protection low-paid workers employed by contractors in the kitchen, laundry and cleaning industries receive if their employer changes – and all the others at the rally and has called on the government to drop the bill.
The CTU was one of the first to address the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee last week and is one of around 12,000 submissions sent through to the select committee to consider. While the vast majority are from ordinary workers and their unions employers have also rallied to support the bill. Helen Kelly summarises one of them here – which is fairly representative of most of the industry ones.
When the Minister of Labour Simon Bridges introduced this he said it would introduce ‘balance’ in the relationship between employer and employees.
He completely ignores the fact that employment relations has always been weighted in favour of the boss and what he is doing with this bill is creating a climate of fear where workers will not be able to speak out or negotiate better pay and conditions.