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Employment law changes get mixed reception

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

By Peter Wilson of NZPA

Auckland, July 18 NZPA - Around 500 trade unionists banged drums and bellowed protests outside the National Party's annual conference today while inside it delegates cheered Prime Minister John Key as he announced sweeping changes to employment law.

He told them the Government was focused on and was going to achieve greater employment, and the ACT Party's support would ensure the changes could be driven through Parliament.

"This is a policy of opportunity," he told more than 600 applauding delegates.

"It is about giving people the chance to find a job and nothing is more important than that."

The 90-day probation period, when new employees can be sacked without taking a grievance case, is being extended to cover all businesses.

It currently applies to businesses with 19 or less employees.

There are changes to the Holidays Act and amendments to the way the Employment Relations Authority deals with grievances.

Mr Key said workers were getting a fair deal from the changes, and penalties for employers who breach the Holidays Act are being doubled.

"We are committed to maintaining a fair and equitable system that protects the rights of New Zealand workers," he said.

Outside the Sky City Convention centre the union demonstrators didn't see it that way, accusing the Government of another attack on workers' rights.

Mr Key told reporters after his speech that the Government wasn't going back to the Employment Contracts Act introduced by the previous National government, and everything he had announced today was within his party's election manifesto.

During his speech, delegates clapped and cheered his employment law announcements - as they did when he reeled off the Government's achievements since it came to office.

The two-day conference was a success for Mr Key -- the party knows his personal popularity with voters is going to be a vital issue in next year's election when National seeks a second term in office.

He told delegates the tax changes that come into effect in October would outweigh the increase in GST for the vast majority of people, and national standards in schools was what parents wanted.

During the conference a string of senior ministers took the stage to explain their portfolio successes and take questions.

They were given an easy ride by happy delegates who know National is riding high in the polls and 20 points ahead of Labour.

Not even Agriculture Minister David Carter was taken to task -- and there were plenty of farmers in the audience who have previously been very critical of the emissions trading scheme.

Only one remit was debated -- a Young Nationals initiative which said the alcohol purchasing age should stay at 18 and existing laws should be more strongly enforced. It was passed on a show of hands.

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