Cheers, jeers for labour law changes (+poll)

By Kiri Gillespie


Unions have slated newly announced labour laws, but Tauranga employers say the controversial changes are a step in the right direction for small Western Bay of Plenty businesses.

Tauranga MP and Labour Minister Simon Bridges unveiled a suite of employment reforms under the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, changing rules around smoko break entitlements and allowing employers to opt out of collective bargaining.

Mr Bridges proposed making the existing rules more flexible in workplace relations. This included allowing essential service employers to determine when staff could take a break and removing new staff members' automatic 30-day cover under a collective of that business.

EPMU lawyer Greg Lloyd said proposed changes were extreme.

"They are being presented as sort of moderate, middle of the road tweaking but they are not. They are radical, radical changes.

"It would be disingenuous of the Government or various business organisations in support of this to say otherwise."

Mr Lloyd said the changes would create an imbalance of power between employers and employees and the union would make a submission against the reforms.

Allowing an employer to decide when an employee could take their breaks also removed workers' rights, Mr Lloyd said.

"As far as meal breaks go, it's a case of putting production ahead of anything else. Rest and meal breaks are important. From a safety point of view, it's essential, especially if you are operating dangerous machinery."

Mr Lloyd was puzzled at where the motivation to make the changes came from, as he had not heard of any employers suffering under the current system allowing two 10-minute breaks in an eight-hour shift.

Rail and Maritime Transport Union general secretary Wayne Butson said allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer collective agreements led the way for minimal wages.

"All the Government is doing with these changes is putting more barriers in the way of workers coming together to improve their pay and conditions and to lift New Zealand's living standards."

Mr Bridges said the changes did not mean people won't get their meal or rest breaks.

"It's not about getting around meal and rest breaks. The fact is for the vast majority of employees, they won't notice any difference. In essential services it provides more flexibility so you don't see unsafe situations such as children or elderly left unattended when left in care."

The motivation behind the changes came from air traffic controllers taking breaks at specific times and potentially leaving incoming planes unattended, Mr Bridges said.

"That situation over time has resolved itself through negotiation but it became clear this was a situation that comes and goes in essential service type roles - a teacher in a class can't just duck out for 15 minutes to take a break, it's similar with the fire service and police work."

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Max Mason said while unionised workers wouldn't like them, the changes had scope to improve employee and employer relations.

"This is a step in the right direction for small businesses particularly, as they are particularly impacted on by too much legislation and regulation.

"Simplicity and certainty is paramount if our small businesses are going to grow and employ more people in the Bay of Plenty."

Changes to the Employment Relations Act

  • Employers could cut pay in the case of partial strike action

  • An option to opt out of multi-employer agreements

  • Removing the requirement on employers and workers to conclude a collective agreement

  • Removing the 30-day rule that forces non-union members to take union terms and conditions


- Bay of Plenty Times

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