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Holiday trade-In bill passes first reading

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, Aug 24 NZPA - Legislation allowing workers to trade in their fourth week of leave for cash and giving employers the right to demand a medical certificate for one day of sick leave passed its first reading in Parliament today after protests from the Labour Party and the Greens.

The debate on the bill began last week, when Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said there was widespread support for trading in a fourth week of leave.

"This is an incredibly popular policy," she said.

"All the feedback we have received from the public is in support of this choice -- the only concern raised so far is that it hasn't been available sooner."

In terms of the bill employers can't ask employees to trade in their leave, and it can't be part of salary negotiations or an employment contract.

Ms Wilkinson said she did not think employers would demand a doctor's certificate for one day of sick leave very often.

"Employers have to pay for the proof and it is clear that they will only request a medical certificate when they genuinely suspect somebody is pulling routine sickies," she said,

The Labour Party's labour relations spokesman, Trevor Mallard, accused the Government of running an agenda to drive down wages and reduce employment conditions.

"(Prime Minister) John Key's secret agenda is to very quietly undermine the wages and salaries of middle income New Zealanders on behalf of the people who give very big donations to the National Party," he said.

"What this legislation does is put pressure on middle New Zealand."

What the Government really meant was that poor people didn't deserve a fourth week of holiday, he said.

"And low wage earners are most likely to do this -- the very families that are struggling the most, facing all sorts of problems -- these are the ones National is attacking."

Mr Mallard said existing rules around medical certificates were fair, and the Government was undoing the balance.

Green Party MP Keith Locke said workers in most developed countries had longer annual holidays than those in New Zealand, and allowing a fourth week to be traded in would mean families had even less time together.

Mr Locke said the medical certificate provision could be used to persecute a worker an employer wanted to get rid of.

"This means people are going to go to work when they are sick, infecting others," he said.

ACT MP Sir Roger Douglas said Labour wanted to deny workers their right to choose what they did with their holidays.

"They're telling someone who is behind on their mortgage `go on holiday and get deeper in debt'," he said.

The Holidays Amendment Bill also contains amendments to the way an average day's pay is calculated for holiday purposes and clarifies other aspects of the Holidays Act.

It passed its first reading on a vote of 69 to 52 and was referred to the industrial relations select committee for public submissions.

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