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Union fury over employment law changes

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Trevor Mallard
Trevor Mallard

NZPA political reporters

Wellington, July 19 NZPA - The Government's employment law changes have provoked furious criticism from unions and the Labour Party.

As Prime Minister John Key was announcing the changes to more than 600 delegates at the National Party's annual conference yesterday, nearly as many union demonstrators were raging outside the Sky City convention centre in Auckland and some tried to force their way into the venue.

Labour MP Trevor Mallard, the party's labour relations spokesman, said the moves were designed to suppress wages and reduce working conditions for all employees, whether or not they were union members.

And the party's youth affairs spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, accused the Government of attacking working conditions while a record number of young people were unemployed.

Mr Key announced the 90-day probation period for new employees, which currently applies to businesses with 19 or fewer workers, was going to be extended to cover all businesses.

He said it had been a success, providing jobs for thousands of young people who would not have otherwise been hired, and challenged unions to prove him wrong.

During the probation period, workers can't take a grievance case against their employer if they are sacked.

Mr Key also announced a raft of changes to the Holidays Act and to the way the Employment Relations Authority handles disputes.

He said all the changes were designed to deliver job growth as the Government focused on developing the economy to provide higher living standards and better wages.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the changes tilted the balance in favour of employers and meant many more workers could be unfairly sacked.

The Nurses Association said a new job was now a three-month contract and proper training might not be provided during that time.

Mr Key's announcement drew an opposite reaction from employers, with Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly saying businesses would feel more confident about hiring people, personal grievances would be better considered and workers would have clarity around their holiday rights.

The Food and Grocery Council said the changes were "commonsense and moderate".

During an otherwise uneventful two-day conference, delegates applauded Mr Key as he spelled out the changes.

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