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Polarised views on labour law changes

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, July 18 NZPA - The Government is attacking Kiwi workers' conditions and wages, unions and the Labour Party say after Prime Minister John Key announced extensive labour law changes.

The Government intends to extend to all firms the 90-day trial period for new workers; make changes to how the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) operates including less strict processes to sack someone; require permission for union access to work places; allow workers to trade in one of four annual leave weeks for cash and transfer public holidays and also require workers to provide proof of illness when they take sick days.

Labour leader Phil Goff said the announcements at National's conference were politically motivated.

"It was simply an attack on Kiwi workers' conditions and wages," he said.

The Greens and Maori Party have also expressed concerns about the 90-day scheme.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the changes would reduce compliance costs and increase jobs and her Cabinet colleague Paula Bennett said they would result in opportunities for young people. ACT leader Rodney Hide said the steps were "a move in the right direction to free up the labour market, giving more options to more people and removing barriers to job growth".

Unions were furious:

* Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the changes tilted the balance in favour of bosses; meant many workers could be unfairly sacked; workers would lose holidays instead of getting a pay rise; and "restricting union access is ideological and a deliberate attack on the democratic right of workers to join unions and resolve workplace issues".

* The New Zealand Nurses Association said a new job was now a three-month contract; labour mobility would be stifled and proper training may not be provided during the 90 days.

On the other side of the spectrum the moves were welcomed.

* Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly said employers would feel more confident about hiring people; the substance of personal grievances would be better considered; and workers would have clarity around their rights and choice around taking payment instead of holidays. "And far from being skewed in favour of employees, the changes will put stiffer requirements on employers in a number of areas".

* Employers and Manufacturers Association spokesman David Lowe said the changes would remove dodgy advocates from ERA proceedings.

* The Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich, a former National MP, said the changes were common sense and moderate.

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