In a world in which collaboration and flexibility are key to the modern workplace, it seems strange we are trying to reinvent an industrial relations framework which appears built on a foundation of "them" and "us".
Let's get the elephant in the room out upfront. Yes, some employers are poor operators, but the employment relations system is effective at addressing this. The financial and reputational costs are high for employers who breach employment laws or seek ways around them.
But the law does not catch all such operators, many workers are exploited and I agree there are problems to address.
My question is, why address this with a major law change seemingly based on the premise that all employers are bad and all employees are vulnerable?
Enforcement is a key part of a functioning framework and more labour inspectors seems an obvious solution.
We need an industrial relations framework that enables employers and employees to have the flexibility to meet the growing demands of the future of work, not stifle it. Recently, IAG and Lion NZ pushed the need for flexible working policies, saying these benefit both staff and employers. This embodies the sentiment that employers want to work alongside modern, forward-thinking unions that offer solutions to help move the business forward.
Our concern is that the proposed changes in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill appear to deliver less flexibility and more compulsion without improving productivity. We want outcomes which enable New Zealand to participate in a modern economy and do not want to lose these, nor create an environment which does not deliver to the Government's call for a high-wage, high-performing economy.
Businesses have to be able to meet the growing demands of their particular operation and be agile enough to remain competitive.
We want a skilled, innovative economy that provides good jobs, decent work conditions and fair wages. We want economic growth and want that to flow through our society. Flexible work arrangements, life-long learning and embracing technology feed into growing our productivity. We have left the closed economy of the 1970s behind.
That means being able to negotiate workplace agreements which balance the needs of employees with those of the operation. Do the proposed legislative changes deliver this? Are employers and employees ready for these?
Some of the legislative changes will:
• Restrict 90-day trial periods to employers with fewer than 20 employees;
• Enforce meal breaks under certain circumstances;
• Pass employee information to unions, which we believe would be in breach of the current privacy laws;
• Require employees who are union delegates to be paid to do union work in working hours;
• Enable union officials to enter a workplace with unfettered access;
• Impose compulsory union membership for an employee's first 30 days, before being able to opt out.
On the whole, our employers are good and recognise the importance of good workplace relations. The current framework for employers and employees to negotiate in good faith has worked well. We are concerned that some of the proposals seek to right imbalances that do not widely exist.
The worst outcome would be if it was more difficult for employers to recruit/retain staff, and productivity declined.
• Kim Campbell is chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.