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Protests tomorrow over "anti-worker" legislation

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Helen Kelly
Helen Kelly

Wellington, July 17 NZPA - Workers angered by moves they see as rolling back their rights intend to protest outside the National Party conference in Auckland tomorrow (Sunday).

Prime Minister John Key is expected to this weekend announce moves to widen the 90-day trial scheme under which workers can be fired without comeback and to reduce union access to workplaces.

The announcement will come at National's mid-term conference in Auckland, so unions plan to mobilise their forces to protest outside the venue.

"Unfair dismissal changes are just the tip of the iceberg," Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said.

"There is now an accumulation of attacks on workers either already implemented, or in the pipeline."

All workers starting a new job were now in risk of being fired at the whim of an employer, she said.

"To make matters worse, we believe the Government will also make it more difficult for the Employment Court to question the reason why any worker has been dismissed."

Labour leader Phil Goff said it amounted to a fire-at-will attack on workers' rights, with his views echoed by Green Party co-leader Russel Norman.

National allies the Maori Party expressed concern about the impact the 90-day trial would have on young Maori, making it even harder for them to find work during an "unemployment crisis".

Labour's ethnic affairs spokesman Ashraf Choudhary said the restrictions would hit migrants hard, as they already felt exclusion, discrimination and prejudice when they arrived. The 90-day trial and lack of union representation would make it worse, he said.

Unions said the 90-day policy could lead to unsafe workplaces as new employees would be too afraid to raise concerns, but employers said it would offer them incentive to take a chance on an employee they might otherwise not offer a job.

The 90-day scheme at present applies to employment in businesses with fewer than 20 staff. The Government had been looking at expanding to firms with 50 employees, but it appeared set to be extended to all companies, regardless of size.

Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) national secretary Andrew Little -- the Labour Party president -- said it was "an old-fashioned National Party attack on workers".

When the Council of Trade Unions met next week, the EPMU would call for mass mobilisation against the measures, he said.

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