The Government and trade unions say National's employment relations policy will cut wages, despite the party saying it will retain core provisions of the Employment Relations Act (ERA) if it wins the election.
National's leader, John Key, gave an assurance today the basic principles of the ERA would remain in place. "We are staying with the Employment Relations Act. We are not going back to the Employment Contracts Act," he said. "Good faith provisions will still apply, as will rights to sick leave, holidays, and health and safety provisions."
Mr Key said National would keep four weeks annual leave but allow employees to trade the fourth week for cash.
Labour Minister Trevor Mallard described the policy as "a return to the bad old days" with no protection for new employees, an erosion of the Holidays Act and a power shift in favour of employers. National's policy contains the previously-announced provision for a 90-day probation period for new employees and says there will be a review of the Holidays Act. Mr Mallard described the probation period as a "fire at will" provision which would mean lower pay and would force new employees into a trial period without any protection against unfair or unreasonable treatment. And he said a review of the Holidays Act was National Party code for cutting the pay of sick people.
The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) said the policy would drive down the wages of all workers. "Every point in this policy is an attack on current worker rights and every point would put downward pressure on wages," said EPMU national secretary Andrew Little.
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said there was no mention in the policy of how it would lift wages and predicted holiday pay would be cut.
The National Distribution Union's secretary, Laila Harre, said the policy was a wolf in sheep's clothing. "It is a gift to employers, wrapped in the language of `reasonableness'," she said. "This policy will keep wages down. . .the attempt to shift the balance of power in a workplace even more towards employers is dressed up in weasel words."
Business New Zealand said the policy had the capacity to deliver economic growth if it was partnered by other pro-growth policies. "A period of restraint and consolidation along with enhancement of basic rights is likely to be beneficial," Business NZ chief executive Phil O'Reilly said. "The vast majority of employers will welcome the commitment to review the Holidays Act which has been widely criticised for its complexity and costliness to apply." National's industrial relations spokeswoman, Kate Wilkinson, said the policy was balanced and the response was hysterical. "There is no threat to worker rights, collective bargaining will continue, there is no attack on entitlements, there is no plan to cut holidays and there is no plan to privatise ACC," she said. "It's the same tired old hysterical rubbish we've heard from Labour all week."
The main points of National’s policy are:
- Introduce a 90-day trial period for new staff, by agreement between the employer and employee, in businesses with fewer than 20 people;
- Continue to allow union access to workplaces with an employer's consent, which cannot be unreasonably withheld;
- Continue to support the social partnership with Business NZ and the Council of Trade Unions to work together on issues of mutual interest;
- Restore workers' rights to bargain collectively without having to belong to a union;
- Retain the Mediation Service but ensure it is properly resourced with properly qualified mediators;
- Require the Employment Relations Authority to act judicially in accordance with the principles of natural justice, including the right to be heard, and the right to cross-examine before an impartial referee;
- Allow injunctions and important legal questions to be heard in the first instance in the Employment Court, and allow a general right of appeal to the Court of Appeal;
- Keep four weeks annual leave but allow employees to request trade of the fourth week for cash. This can be only at the employee's request and cannot be raised in negotiations for an agreement; and
- Appoint a working party to review the Holidays Act, especially the issue of 'relevant daily pay'.