By Pattrick Smellie
April 2 (BusinessDesk) – The
government’s proposed labour law reforms re-establish a kind
of “compulsory unionism”, and many provisions of the
Employment Relations Reform Bill conflict with its objective
of promoting “a high performing, high wage economy,” says
peak business lobby group Business New
Submissions on Workplace Relations Minister Iain
Lees-Galloway’s bill, a key plank of Labour Party policy,
closed formally on Good Friday and will appear on
Parliament’s website in coming days.
their submissions are Business NZ and Horticulture New
Zealand, the latter representing some 5,000 small to
medium-scale seasonal employers. Both are warning about an
increased likelihood of industrial action, in conflict with
another the bill’s aims: “to build productive workplace
relationships founded on good faith”.
Instead, both argue
the new environment would tip the balance too far in unions’
favour and that some of its proposed mechanisms were bound
to create unnecessary conflict in the workplace.
particular concern is a requirement to continue bargaining
“until all matters have been exhausted”, which could
“unnecessarily prolong collective bargaining and increase
prospects of industrial action”.
Business NZ also argues
the bill breaches International Labour Organisation
conventions on the right to voluntary participation in
collective bargaining and suggests the bill’s provisions
allowing unions to collect membership fees for every
employee in a business, irrespective of whether they have
chosen to join the union, “effectively constitute(s)
compulsory unionism”. It also pre-empts policy on issues
said to be out of scope for the current phase of
As drafted, the submission says it is “arguable
that no employee, despite the fact they may have chosen not
to join the relevant union, may be employed on an individual
agreement that is inconsistent with an applicable collective
agreement” and “will almost certainly act as an inhibiting
factor to the recruitment and retention of skilled employees
who choose not to join a union”.
There were concerns also
that for businesses facing an urgent need to restructure,
“often for reasons of economic survival … the requirement
to settle a collective agreement will become a tactical tool
in any attempt to resist change”.
concerns related especially to the compliance costs,
complexity and in some cases impracticality of applying the
Bill’s requirements to the sector.
industry is made up of a number of small, inter-generational
family businesses totalling around 5,000 spread around the
country. The ability for all 5,000 businesses to be involved
in collective bargaining is practically impossible,” its
Also relevant to horticultural businesses
are the 90-day trial provisions, which will only remain in
place for new employees in firms with fewer than 20 staff.
Seasonal workforce fluctuations created definition and
compliance issues for horticulturists. Business NZ proposed
increasing the minimum employee number to 50 staff before
losing the ability to make 90-day trial hires.
Business NZ said the clause repealing employers’ right to
opt out of a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA)
“strengthens the probability of fractious bargaining and
increased industrial tension”.
bargaining fails to recognise such matters as differences in
employer size, profitability and ability to pay, or the need
for commercial sensitivity. That commercial confidentiality
can by no means be guaranteed has long been an employer
Other parts of the submission raise concerns
about whether union delegates will be “asking” or “telling”
their employers when they would be taking paid time to
attend to union matters. Business NZ would rather see mutual
Provisions requiring employers to give
details of all new employees to the union, irrespective of
joining it, were also opposed, along with restoring the “all
or nothing” approach to dealing with employees taking low
level industrial action.
“Given that strike action is
restricted to supporting collective bargaining, the proposal
also strengthens the ability of workers and unions to
conclude collective agreements, particularly new ones at
industry level,” the Business NZ submission says.
education and workforce select committee has until Aug. 1 to
report the bill back to Parliament. The government has been
acutely aware of not wanting to repeat the ‘winter of
discontent’ with the business community experienced by the
newly elected Labour government of Helen Clark, in winter
Timings for oral submissions on the bill have yet to
Not all objections from employers look too
difficult to solve, the question of staggered meal breaks
being one. The Bill requires all employees, bar essential
services, to take simultaneous breaks. Employers say they’re
all for breaks, but want to be able to keep operations
running rather than the productivity loss of a full stop and
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