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Unions continue to voice anger over labour law changes

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Wellington, July 26 NZPA - Unions continue to voice strong opposition to sweeping new labour laws announced by the Government, saying the move is attack on workers' rights.

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.

In the Council of Trade Unions' latest letter to Prime Minister John Key, president Helen Kelly called the changes a "disregard for the working people of this country."

"They paint a picture of workers as lazy, untrustworthy skivers that are out of control and need to be disciplined.

"Workers are painted as acting deceitfully when applying for positions, taking sickies, misusing union memberships and a range of other complete generalisations that demean the people we work with everyday," she said.

Ms Kelly explained Mr Key had said changes to workers' access to unions was off the table, and if it changed the union would be told. She said he didn't.

"The fact the process was so bad and includes a direct attack on the role of unions makes the lack of process more sinister in my view."

"You said you wanted to work with the unions. Of course this was at a time of a deepening recession but we thought it was a longer term intention. And you portrayed yourself as a moderating influence in employment law matters. That has changed," she said.

The extension of the 90-day trial period for new employees has been the focus of an ideological battle in parliament.

The Labour Party has said it will lead to people being fired without knowing the reason and will not help reduce unemployment.

Prime Minister John Key has said the changes were fair and balanced and good faith provisions still applied in the 90-day period.

"The concept of good faith requires an employer to be communicative, it is reasonable to expect that that includes giving a basic reason (for dismissal)."

Though, there was no requirement for a formal written reason, he said.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the 90-day trial period was optional and people did not have to agree to it.

Doctors, nurses and teachers were among the professions unlikely to need a 90-day period because they were qualified and generally had experience.

People who were changing jobs were also unlikely to need it because they had relevant experience.

The original 90-day probation period, which was limited to employers with 19 or fewer workers, was a success, Ms Wilkinson said.

"The idea of the 90-day trial was to give employers the confidence to take on new employees and to give employees the opportunity to get their foot in the door.

"If, for any reason, the employment relationship was not working, the relationship could be terminated without the need to go through the prescriptive dismissal process under the legislation," she said.

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