Employers will no longer have to reach a collective agreement during collective bargaining, under changes made to industrial relations laws, approved by Cabinet today.

Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson said the changes include removing the requirement to conclude collective bargaining, allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer bargaining, allowing partial pay reductions in the case of partial strikes and removing the 30-day rule, under which new workers automatically come under a collective agreement for the first 30 days.

Labour's labour spokeswoman Darien Fenton said if these proposed changes had been in place during the bargaining between the Ports of Auckland and its workers, the Port of Auckland could have had the mandate to walk away.

She said it was a direct assault on good-faith bargaining.


In 2004 Labour amended the Employment Relations Act to require employers to enter into bargaining with a duty of good faith and an aim to conclude a collective agreement. This would be undone in the latest move by the Government, she said.

"It's pretty significant actually, if you look at the ports of Auckland and the ongoing dispute there _ the ports of Auckland could have walked away from bargaining and it's the same with Talleys/Affco.

"Moves to destabilise collective bargaining undermine the effort and pride New Zealanders put into their work,'' she said.

Prime Minister John Key said National had campaigned on the changes but admitted it had not campaigned to level out the amount of time unions and employers have to initiate collective bargaining.

"At the moment it's 40 days for an employer and 20 days for a union. We don't think it makes sense to have a differential date, so we'll have the same date,'' said Mr Key.

President of the Council of Trade Unions Helen Kelly said the Government had a responsibility to promote collective bargaining.

"Instead they are undermining it and they know this will further reduce pay and conditions for New Zealand workers.''

She said the removal of the duty to conclude collective bargaining will be seen as the "Port of Auckland clause'' because the Government knows that the port wanted to abandon collective bargaining and instead begin contracting out.

Ms Kelly said deductions from workers' pay for partial strike action is another attack on the rights of workers. "It is designed to force workers either into a full strike or to abandon any action.''