Government cronyism is being blamed for delays in Employment Relations Authority investigations, caused by a 76 per cent turn over of its members in two years.
The Department of Labour warned Government changes to industrial relations laws, signed off by Cabinet yesterday, would put further pressure on the authority, which resolves employment problems that cannot be settled by mediation.
A leaked letter from authority chief Alastair Dumbleton said urgent cases were being prioritised but non-urgent cases faced delays, as departing members wound down their case loads and new members came up to speed.
Delays were likely to continue over the next few months if there were further changes to the 17 full-time independent members, he said.
The contracts of seven members had expired since 2010 and a further six would expire between June and the end of the year. They are appointed by the Governor-General, on the recommendation of Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson.
Labour's industrial relations spokeswoman Darien Fenton said some members had wanted to stay on but their contracts were not renewed.
"The minister is clearly wanting to put her own people in there, what we would describe as cronies."
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the organisation was consulted on appointments and had a policy of approving the reappointment of competent members, regardless of whether it agreed with their decisions.
"We are concerned there does seem to be some sort of agenda to replace experienced authority members with people that we don't necessarily even know of.
"For the minister to be picking off authority members is a pretty poor precedent."
Wilkinson said she was concerned about the delays but it was important the right "high calibre" people were appointed.
Some of the delay had been caused because new members could not be appointed during an election period.
The minister did not accept she was putting her own people on the authority.
"You have to achieve a balance between continuity and new blood. That is the balance I am trying to achieve together with a balance of skills, geographical locations and experience."
Fairfax Media yesterday revealed the Government was going further with changes to industrial relations laws than set out in National's election policy.
It is to allow employers to launch collective bargaining negotiations, removing the 20-day head start unions currently have.
Fenton said it would increase the number of disputes before the authority.
Other changes signalled before the election and approved by Cabinet include:
* employers will no longer have to conclude collective bargaining and will only be required to negotiate in good faith; non-union employees will no longer have to be employed on a collective contract for the first 30 days of their employment;
* employers will be able to opt out of multi-employer bargaining; workers will be able to ask for flexible work arrangements without having to wait until they have been employed for six months;
* and employers will be able to deduct the pay of workers carrying out partial strikes.
A regulatory impact statement by the department warned deducting pay for partial strikes will "put pressure on the resources of the employment institutions".
- © Fairfax NZ News
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