Simon Bridges not looking too petrified that the Unions are gunning for him.

Simon Bridges not looking too petrified that the Unions are gunning for him.

Unions are united in their opposition to proposed employment law changes, saying they will affect not only workers but their children and the healthcare system. Submissions to a parliamentary select committee on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill entered their second week yesterday.

The changes will allow employers to opt out of collective bargaining if negotiations stall and withdraw from multi-employer collective agreements.

They will also remove the rule that automatically gives new workers 30 days under collective conditions, increase flexibility on meal breaks, demand advance notification of strike action and allow partial pay cuts in cases of partial strike action.

Post Primary Teachers’ Association president Angela Roberts said weakening the collective bargaining structure would increase child poverty as parents struggled to make enough money. “When you have parents that are struggling and people are stressed, they find it really difficult to support their kids … so you make our jobs harder,” she said. For teachers, it would lead to protracted negotiations and the possibility of unequal pay rates between rich and poor schools. “While I’m not suggesting our employers are rubbing their hands with glee, schools are really under pressure,” she said. “They’re under-resourced and they have a really small [piece] of cloth to carve up.”

The Public Service Association, which represents more than 50,000 workers, and the New Zealand Nurses Association expressed dismay at the changes.

PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said there were already problems with employers walking away from negotiations despite laws restricting them from doing so. If they were given the option to decide that bargaining had ended, it would fundamentally change the balance of negotiations. Penalising partial strike action would also create problems, he said. “We think part of being in a democracy and the PSA is being able to protest, and we don’t always want to hit the nuclear button,” he said.

Law Commission employment law committee convener Michael Quigg said it would be advisable to clarify certain points in the bill, otherwise it would only be a matter of time before the parties ended up in court.

It was unclear whether employers could break away from collective bargaining simply because they deemed individual contracts were better suited for their workplace.

It would also be beneficial to cut the time required for a determination to be issued by the Employment Relations Authority, with oral decisions a possibility, he said.

Employment rights have become a focal point of the Labour leadership race, with contenders David Cunliffe and Grant Robertson pledging to repeal the bill if the party wins power next year.

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the legislation would provide extra clarity and fairness for employers while retaining key benefits for affected employees.

– © Fairfax NZ News