Tough Times For Workers

Govt. undermines living standards as young flee the country

By Helen Kelly
President, Trades Union Council

Kiwi’s workers are having a tough time of it at the moment. Our wages are low, our prices are high, and we’re seeing record numbers of our young workers moving across the ditch to Australia in search of good jobs with decent wages.

On top of this, the government seems determined to undermine workers’ ability to get better wages and conditions by cutting collective bargaining rights. Collective bargaining builds higher wages and better jobs.

More tough laws

But the government is about to introduce another batch of employment law changes that will make bargaining more difficult than it already is.

Instead of seeking to advance the employment relationship, or bargaining power of workers; rather, they are going to weaken bargaining power and take us back to familiar National government territory – making things easier for those employers who don’t want to work with unions and who are combative when it comes to bargaining.

The proposed changes look to remove the duty to conclude bargaining for a collective agreement; remove the protection for a new worker in the first 30 days of employment where there is an applicable collective agreement; give the employer the ability to opt out of MECA bargaining; and allow deductions from pay in a partial strike.

Probable breach of international law

These changes may sound technical in their nature, but they are anything but. Their impact will be to reduce collective bargaining, reduce work rights and probably breach New Zealand’s obligations under international conventions.

These changes will make it harder for kiwi workers to get a fair deal at work and decent wage increases.

They are unbalanced and will unfairly further tilt the power in the employment relationship towards employers.  They will  be particularly hard on new and vulnerable workers

Dept. says ‘unbalanced and unfair’

The government’s own advice from Department of Labour shows that these changes are unbalanced and unfair.

They offer little in the way of efficiencies to either party in bargaining, especially where there is a good, productive relationship between the employer and union.

International research has shown that inequality is lowest where unions are prevalent. The Government has a responsibility to promote collective bargaining as a way to reduce inequality and increase wages.

We need employment laws that encourage collective bargaining as the way to higher wages and productive and safe workplaces, not changes that undermine bargaining and make it even harder for workers to get ahead.