Employment law 'a step backwards'

02:23, Oct 31 2014

The new employment law is a step backwards and could put vulnerable workers at risk, says Equal Opportunities Commissioner Jackie Blue.

The former National MP has also questioned why New Zealand needed more deregulation when it already had one of the least regulated labour markets in the world.

The Employment Relations Amendment Act, which passed its final hurdle in Parliament yesterday, "has the potential to put vulnerable workers in a more precarious position", Blue said in a statement today.

"Unfortunately this Act is a step backward from New Zealand's compliance with international human rights obligations to protect worker's rights. New Zealand regularly emerges as one of the least regulated labour markets in the world. It is difficult to understand the justification for even further deregulation."

However, she welcomed the provision in the Act that gives all workers the right to request flexible working hours.

The Act removes the statutory right to meal and tea breaks, allows employers to dock pay if employees take partial strike action and also allows employers to opt out of multi-employer bargaining and walk away from bargaining for a collective agreement provided they have first acted in good faith.

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It was opposed by Labour, the Greens, NZ First and the Maori Party but passed with the support of National, ACT and UnitedFuture.

Prime Minister John Key said it was "a very moderate piece of employment legislation."

But Blue said the law change weakened the ability of unions to negotiate on behalf of workers. 

"This is likely to be detrimental to the role of unions in advancing fairness and equity."

She said the ability for employers to walk away from collective bargaining undermined New Zealand's long standing commitment to the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. 

"The result could be a less collaborative and productive workplace where mutually beneficial agreements can no longer be freely negotiated, invariably impacting on economic development and prosperity."

She said the change that meant new employees would no longer come within the provisions of the collective agreement in their first 30 days "may result in offering new employees pay and conditions less than that contained in the collective, further undermining collective bargaining and freedom of association".

She also criticised changes to Part 6A of the Act, which was originally put in place to ensure jobs were protected in industries where restructuring was common.

Under changes passed yesterday, employers in such workplaces with fewer than 20 employees would be exempt.

"Tens of thousands of employees could be affected by these proposals, comprising of workers from the cleaning sector, caretakers, hospital orderlies and laundry workers. These workers are predominantly women, many of whom are Maori, Pacific peoples and other ethnic minorities," Blue said.

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