Helen Kelly’s Column

Govt. Disregarding International Duties on Collective Bargaining

By Helen Kelly
President, Trades Union Council

One of the first acts of the new National government in 2008 was to bring in the 90-day fire-at-will law, a law that has seen employees sacked without reason on the 89th day of employment.

The-90 day law hasn’t provided any of the employment benefits it was proposed to address.

We know that with a National government, employment law changes are always on the cards. So it came as no surprise when the government announced a further batch of employment law changes last week. 

New powers for employers

This new lot of employment law changes propose to remove obligations for employers to conclude collective bargaining  and opt out of multi-employer bargaining.  The changes would allow employers to deduct the pay of workers who undertake partial strikes. They would also see new employees no longer having the protection of being employed on the terms of a collective agreement for the first 30 days of their employment.

And employers will be able to initiate collective bargaining at the same time as unions, meaning that the requirement to negotiate in good faith could be on the coverage and terms the employer initiates on.

These changes herald ominous signs for industrial relations and good faith bargaining, especially if the relationship breaks down. In fact, had these law changes (particularly the duty to conclude) been in force at the start of this year, it would have made both the Ports and AFFCO disputes much more difficult, legally.

There would have been no obligation for either the Ports or AFFCO to do anything more than the bare minimum, the Port could have made the wharfies redundant and their jobs could have been contracted out. The meatworkers may not have gotten to the settlement they reached earlier this week.

Changes won’t increase wages

Additionally, these changes will not help increase wages. Wages are too low, for too many workers in New Zealand. Too many hard working kiwi families are struggling to keep their head above water. The ‘zero budget’ will not do enough to support low paid workers and their families. And wage increases have not matched price increases.

We need an improved employment law that provides for more collective bargaining, and more industry wide standards for pay and conditions– not less. The Government actually has an international obligation to promote collective bargaining. Instead it is deliberately undermining collective bargaining, collective bargaining which could lift wages, protect job conditions and reduce inequality in New Zealand.