Changes to NZ’s employment law, its impacts on Pacific community
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill, 2013 is expected to pass its third and final reading today. It will bring into law changes the John Key government has been pushing for since April 2013.
Changes that have been fiercely opposed by unions, the Labour Party and the Green Party when the bill was tabled.
Labour’s Su’a William Sio called the changes ‘anti-worker’ as they will weaken Unions, and isolate workers as individuals so that if there’s strike action, “if any worker kicks up a fuss, or retaliates, they will either be taxed, locked out, sacked, or employers will take you to court and seek to imprison anyone opposed to any employer.”
Ms Denise Roach of the Green Party says the changes will keep wages low as employers “will now have the power to walk away from negotiations.” Higher wages is key to reducing child poverty which a report released by UNICEF yesterday shows New Zealand has not addressed adequately since 2008.
While Services and Food Workers Union, General Secretary, Mr John Ryall said changes to Part 6A means employers who employ less than 20 workers will now have the power “to dump their existing workers and/or cut their employment conditions.”
He said impacts of changes to Part 6A will be, “devastating on thousands of vulnerable workers” many of them Pacific workers.
Even one of the government’s partner’s, the Maori Party, have been against the bill and yesterday re-emphasised their opposition to it.
“We are utterly opposed to this bill which will reduce worker’s rights, endanger job security and decimate the good faith provisions of workplace bargaining,” said Māori Party MP Marama Fox.
But no matter how loud their opposition it will not matter as all the government needs to pass it through parliament is the help of just one partner.
And that partner has stepped forward – the ACT party.
To find out more details about key impacts these changes will have on our Pacific community, Pacific Guardians was able to gain views from the Unions, Green Party and Labour Party.
SERVICES AND FOODWORKERS UNION (SFWU)
The SFWU has focused its campaign on the changes to Part 6A of the law, General Secretary, Mr John Ryall told Pacific Guardians.
The reasoning behind that is because Part 6A “provides job security and the protection of employment conditions for cleaners, catering workers, hospital orderlies and laundry workers during changes of contract,” he said.
“This clause has been very important to stabilising the lives of Pacific workers (who dominate these sectors in the North Island) and their families.”
Mr Ryall points out that now the changes is law, it means that cleaning and catering companies who employ less than 20 workers now have the power, “to dump their existing workers and/or cut their employment conditions.
“This change will have a devastating effect on thousands of ‘vulnerable’ workers that this section was designed to protect.
“The Minister of Labour continues to proceed with this measure despite advice against it by his own department, several independent reviews of this section and the central organisation of cleaning companies, the Building Service Contractors NZ.”
THE GREEN PARTY
Ms Denise Roach, the Green’s Pacific spokesperson told Pacific Guardians that the stripping of employment law protections from workers by these changes to the law will be bad not just for Pacific people, but for all New Zealanders.
The worst impact she feels will be keeping wages low because the changes mean employers “never have to agree to a pay increase.”
“There is a lot wrong with John Key’s removal of employment rights, but probably the worst impact will be lower wages for workers and their families,” she said.
“Many Pacific workers are in lower paid service sector jobs. Over recent years, hard fought wins for pay increases and other condition have been won by unions.
“But under John Key’s law changes employers no longer need to agree to any changes that workers put forward. They can just walk away from negotiations. That means they never have to agree to a pay increase.”
The impacts of low wages and little to no pay increases will mean greater hardship as the cost of living continue to increase unabated.
Employers now with the power to walk away from negotiations, “will have a big impact on Pacific workers and their families. With housing, food and power costs going up all the time, we need wages to go up too, but that is about to get a lot harder.
“Wage increases will be much harder to achieve. National’s law changes also mean many workers will not get guaranteed breaks and will instead have to negotiate these with their boss. We all know that means regular breaks are going to be less likely.”
She reminded Pacific Guardians that during the election campaign, this was one of the main focus of the their party – to reduce inequality and that meant “the Green Party stood for wages you can live on.
“At the most recent election we proposed an $18 an hour minimum wage by 2017 and a living wage for all Government employed workers.
“We stand for more rights for workers not less.”
NZ LABOUR PARTY
Labour’s Pacific affairs spokesperson Su’a William Sio says the ‘Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2013’ on the surface may appear harmless but it will wreak havoc on the lives of working New Zealanders. He calls it an ‘anti-worker’ bill with its priority of weakening ‘Unions’ to isolate workers individually thereby overcoming the power of standing as collectives.
“Its name doesn’t appear sinister so it conceals its true intentions and the impact it will have on working New Zealanders,” he told Pacific Guardians.
“It’s only when you start looking into the details of the Bill that you begin to appreciate the National government’s true intentions and that it is ultimately a bill that conveys a strong anti-worker stance by the National government.
“It is anti-worker in the sense that while National wants workers to work, it doesn’t want workers to organise themselves into trade unions – a fundamental human right. Nor does it want workers to have the ability to bargain collectively and maintain multi-employer collective agreements – another fundamental human right enshrined in international convention.
“It is also anti-worker because it doesn’t want workers to have the right to take strike action, and if workers do, under this current legislation they will be taxed, locked out or sacked.”
The government in tabling this bill says it will ensure efficiency in collective bargaining and provide more flexibility in the employer/employee relationships.
But Su’a doesn’t agree.
“The Government’s very own Regulatory Impact Statement (RIS) declares that flexibility will be afforded to employers but not employees. Furthermore, the RIS also states that the provisions of the Bill are inconsistent with international conventions on workers rights.”
Su’a pointed out that the principal act this Bill amends is called the Employment Relations Act 2000.
“That bill was introduced by the Helen Clark Labour Government when it came into government in 1999, to repeal the draconian provisions of the Employment Contracts Act 1991, which the National government introduced when it became government in 1990.”
What Su’a is saying is that the 2013 amendment bill works against the key objects of the Employment Relations Act. In fact he says it mirrors the draconian provisions of the Contracts Act 1991.
Those provisions will usher in serious changes to workers breaks, collective bargaining, strikes, and the protection of vulnerable workers.
The main changes that will harm Kiwi workers according to Su’a are:
- Removing the duty to conclude collective bargaining
- Repealing the 30 day rule
- Allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer collective bargaining
- Allowing employers to have the ERA determine bargaining concluded
- A “strike tax” allowing deductions for partial strikes and requiring advance written notice of all strikes
- Removing part 6A protections for vulnerable workers in small companies and franchises
- Requiring the ERA to give oral determinations wherever practical
- Removing workers entitlements to rest and meal breaks
Su’a revealed that as someone who was a union organiser before and during the period when National introduced the Employment Contracts Act 1991, “I can say from cold experience it will be Pacific and Māori workers that will be attacked under these anti-worker, anti-union laws.”
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2013 is a return to the Employment Contracts Act 1991 he said, “takes New Zealand industrial relations backwards. It creates a significant imbalance by empowering employers and weakening workers and their trade unions.
“National is turning the clock back to the bad old days of sacking workers without good reason, or locking them out if they go on strike, or refusing to bargain in good faith, refusing to conclude collective bargaining. Essentially if any worker kicks up a fuss, or retaliates, they will either be taxed, locked out, sacked, or employers will take you to court and seek to imprisoned anyone opposed to any employer.”
A number of Pacific workers made submissions at the committee stage of the bill. Their personal situations then, and how National’s current bill will impact them now, are listed by Su’a below:
Mele Tevete a Wellington cleaner has been cleaning the same workplace for 17 years working 20 hours weekly.
Recently the building owner let the cleaning contract to a tiny local cleaning contractor, who immediately informed Mele that her hours were to be cut in half.
When she objected, the new contractor gave her notice of redundancy and told her to sign it (no redundancy pay). Because of Part 6A she was reinstated, back paid for the hours she had lost and paid compensation for the way she was treated.
Under the National Government’s proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act
Mele would lose her job because the small contractor would not have to take over her employment.
DUTY TO CONCLUDE COLLECTIVE BARGAINING
Freda Soe works as a community support worker. She is poorly paid.
Her union has been trying to negotiate a collective agreement for her and her workmates for over 12 months. They still have not achieved a collective agreement.
Her employer has made it known that she does not want a collective agreement but is currently obliged to conclude one unless there is a valid reason why not.
Under the National Government’s proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act
Freda knows that as soon as the National Government gives her employer the ability to walk away from collective bargaining, then that will be the end of their chance to achieve justice in their workplace.
REST AND MEAL BREAKS
These changes will affect the vast bulk of non-unionized workers. Only workers covered by a collective agreement or who have specific break provisions in their individual agreements and do not change jobs will have their rest and meal break entitlements protected under the proposed change.