Employment bill to drag on another day

The Government conceded last night that the Employment Relations Bill would not now be passed until probably tomorrow, after another drawn-out parliamentary session that debated hundreds more amendments to the proposed legislation.

By last night, MPs had sat under urgency on the bill for close to 50 hours, including sessions on Friday and Saturday.

Opposition whip John Carter said the Government had made a mess of its management of the bill after a series of blunders over the weekend.

Leader of the House Michael Cullen rubbished that yesterday, but confirmed that he would have to put the House into urgency again today, with an estimated 11 hours of debate, including the final third reading, still to go.

The bill, which will replace the Employment Contracts Act from October 1, will definitely pass, thanks to the support of the Greens, but the Opposition is taking delight in the staunch fight it has put up over the past few days.

Senior Government ministers were last night watching over the bill from their frontbenches in the debating chamber, but could do little to stop the time-wasting antics (known in parliamentary jargon as the filibuster). While some seemed to be taking an active interest in the goings-on, Associate Arts Minister Judith Tizard kept her hands busy, knitting.

The proposed amendments have forced hours of voting, delayed even further by Act and National occasionally voting in Maori, which then has to be translated into English, or voting slowly one by one.

Dr Cullen said very long debates had been allowed on the parts of the bill.

"We've had hundreds of useless amendments moved simply for the purpose of voting and we've had the mickey mouse scene this evening of Act casting party votes and individual votes.

"We've had a mockery of the Maori language being made by Act in particular to try and take more time. At the end of the day the Government has to wear that. The Government carries on and gets its business through."

He said debates on the bill had taken up to four times as long as equivalent parts in the Employment Contracts Act in 1991.

Parliament would have a normal Tuesday session from 2 pm to 10 pm today, but he would move to get the bill past its final hurdle under urgency tomorrow.

- NZPA

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