Employment reforms 'sinister' - Labour

HAMISH RUTHERFORD
Last updated 05:00 14/06/2013

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Union leaders claim workers' rights are becoming weaker than they were in the 1990s, as a new strike-breaking employment bill heads to Parliament.

Botany MP Jami-Lee Ross' Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Amendment Bill was drawn from the members' bill ballot yesterday.

The bill would overturn section 97 of the Employment Relations Act 2000, which prevents the use of volunteers, contractors or other casual employees during strikes and lockouts.

Bill Newson, national secretary of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU), said that piece by piece. the Government was undermining workers' position to bargain.

Before 2000, employers were able to take on temporary workers during strikes because there was nothing saying they could not, Newson said. He understood Ross' bill would give an express OK to do so.

"The latest piece of legislation actually goes further than what applied in the 1990s," he said, adding that industrial action was at a historic low.

"It's already very difficult, in an era of reasonably high unemployment and very low economic activity, for workers to test their employers for fairer wage outcomes.

"It's an answer to a problem we don't have. We don't have a problem with high wages, we don't have a problem with industrial chaos."

Ross said he believed the bill was necessary, and part of National's wider plan to "restore a balance between employers and employees".

Drawn-out industrial action showed that changing sections of the Employment Relations Act banning temporary workers from being employed should be "at least" discussed by a select committee process.

"Is it right that unions have the absolute ability to strike and employees can seek temporary work if they wish, but employers cannot?"

But Labour's Darien Fenton said the bill was sinister. As well as allowing strike-breaking, the amendments also proposed letting employers hire temporary workers in the event of a lockout, where employees were prevented from working.

Prime Minister John Key said he expected robust debate, with National committed only to supporting its first reading, to progress it to select committee.

"People have the right to strike and have that strike to be meaningful, but on the other side of the coin, we don't want it absolutely crippling companies," he said.

The bill will likely need the support of either UnitedFuture MP Peter Dunne or NZ First to progress.

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- The Dominion Post

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