Work, wages revamp planned

Last updated 05:00 30/07/2014

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Labour is planning a "fair workplace commission" to lift the lid on workers' pay and conditions ahead of a major revamp of industrial relations law.

The party's work and wages policy, to be unveiled by Labour leader David Cunliffe today, would in the first 100 days repeal recent National changes, including the 90 day "fire-at-will" probation rule. The minimum wage would be lifted to $15 in April and to about $16 later in the year.

But it is understood the leadership of the Council of Trade Unions is disappointed with Labour's pace of change, seeing the commission - described by some in Labour as a "truth and reconciliation exercise" - as a go-slow on the 2011 policy.

That policy included provisions for "industry standard agreements" that would have covered all businesses and employees in an industry with employers able to opt out only if they had struck their own separate enterprise agreement with a union.

But Labour insiders said the slowdown aimed to avoid an employer-led backlash, pointing to protests against union actions on the Hobbit movies, and build support for change beyond the 15 per cent unionised workforce.

Labour's spokesman Andrew Little confirmed yesterday a fair workplace commission would be part of the mix.

It was envisaged a three-person panel would travel the country talking to employers and employees about matters such as casualisation, the use of labour contractors, wage-setting and conditions in the workplace.

It would also examine the legal division between "contractors" and "employees".

Extra powers may be needed to ensure it had access to workplaces and could take evidence in confidence.

Little said it was "fair to say some unions wanted to see change sooner rather than later, but saw the need for more spadework with those not in unions".

In the first 100 days, National's changes to collective bargaining rules would be repealed as would tighter restrictions on union access rights and changes to the law on unjustified dismissal. That would be followed by the commission, which was expected to be set up quickly and report back within a year.

"We know there's a major problem with wage-setting generally in New Zealand, and we have concerns about employment practices, particularly where we see the increasing use of labour-hire companies . . . where the beneficiary of the person's work is not the person paying them, and the use of independent contractors."

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