Labour launched its employment relations policy today with promises to retain the publicly-owned Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), "fine-tune" employment legislation, strengthen the rights of temporary workers and provide protection for contractors.
Labour Minister Paul Swain said the party recognised building a high wage, high skill economy required continuous productivity improvements.
Labour would amend the Employment Relations Act to ensure vulnerable workers were protected.
Options for the portability of workers' entitlements to leave and superannuation as they move between jobs would also be investigated, he said.
Labour hoped to boost productivity by improving workplace culture, innovation and technology, networking, leadership and management capability, and investing in people and skills.
ACC Minister Ruth Dyson said Labour planned to improve ACC services by increasing entitlements for people with occupational disease and covering those with an injury from a work-related gradual process, disease or infection.
"These are cases where the cause of injury or disease is hard to pin down, such as where a person may have developed a cancer or skin disorder through long-term exposure to a substance in the workplace."
Levy discounts available to large employers would be extended to small employers and the self-employed, she said.
ACC would also develop vocational rehabilitation and training for injured people who were unable to return to pre-injury employment, Ms Dyson said.
Prime Minister Helen Clark said the development of fairer and safer workplaces had been a major achievement of the coalition Government over the past two terms.
"The Employment Relations Act 2000 brought a better balance to workplace relations by promoting collective bargaining and good faith dealing between employers and employees."
Labour would continue its emphasis on good faith dealings.
"Our approach recognises that a partnership between employers and workers and unions, works far better in New Zealand than the adversarial approach of the Employment Contracts Act."
The number of cases before the Employment Court had fallen from 327 in 1999/2000 to 166 in 2003/04.
Labour was committed to a publicly-owned ACC scheme, Miss Clark said.
"ACC is recognised as one of the best schemes of its type in the world.
"Workers who suffer injuries receive more comprehensive care than in any other part of the world, and at a lower cost than through any other comparable accident compensation scheme."
The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) today said Labour's policy highlighted its stark differences with the National Party.
National plans to repeal the Employment Relations Law Reform Act if it wins the election.
National's employment relations policy also includes: introducing a 90-day probation period for new workers; incorporating the Employment Contracts Act 1991 and the Employment Relations Act 2000 into a new act; cutting Occupational Safety and Health red tape; and overhauling the Holidays Act to reduce costs to employers.
CTU secretary Carol Beaumont said the Government had delivered a 36 per cent increase in the minimum wage, better employment laws, higher pay for public holiday work, 13 weeks paid parental leave, a higher standard of occupational health and safety, and protection for vulnerable workers.
"We want to continue with the economic growth and high employment the Government has delivered and move towards a modern economy that invests in skill development to improve workplace performance and organisation, and increase workforce participation, rather than return to the bitter, low-wage, low-skill approach of the 90s."
New Zealand Nurses Organisation spokeswoman Laila Harre said the union was also concerned about National's employment relations policy.
Nurses and other health workers had benefitted from the current Government's policies and jobs such as achieving safe staffing in public hospitals started by Labour, needed to be finished.
"Nurses are very concerned that National wants to turn the clock back to the failed industrial relations policies of the 90s, an era when the Employment Contracts Act forced down health workers' wages and conditions."