Labour attack industrial law changes again

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 16:32 19/07/2013

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Labour has renewed its attack on planned industrial law changes after papers showed further concerns about possible breaches of international labour conventions.

In a paper to the Cabinet released yesterday, Labour Minister Simon Bridges warns that a proposed grace period of 60 days in which employers and employees cannot resume collective bargaining is likely to be seen as a breach of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) convention on the right to organise and bargain.

"Because it would also prohibit the right to strike during the period, it is likely to be also seen as inconsistent with ILO conventions [on freedom of association and protection of the right to organise]," he said.

The grace period balanced the need for a cooling-off period with the need to not overly restrict the rights to bargain collectively and strike, he said.

The fresh attacks come before a union campaign against the changes that kicks off next week.

The Cabinet had earlier been advised that there was a similar risk of breaching ILO conventions over a move to allow employers to opt out of multi-employer collective bargaining.

"However, I consider the inconsistencies with ILO conventions may not be significant," Bridges said, given an independent authority would determine when bargaining was over and that the parties could agree to resume bargaining earlier than 60 days.

Labour spokeswoman Darien Fenton said the last-minute changes to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill would be felt by thousands.

"An employer will be able to apply to the Employment Relations Authority for a declaration that bargaining has ended. If successful, workers will immediately be on individual contracts and outside the protections that collective bargaining provides," she said.

"Currently, collective agreements continue for a year after their expiry, and where this happens, employers cannot try to convince workers to sign individual contracts."

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) will launch a campaign next week, including rallies, stop-work meetings and a day of action, opposing the cuts to employment rights.

President Helen Kelly said the CTU would take a complaint to the ILO if the bill became law.

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