The changes being proposed to our employment laws clearly stand to benefit many more employees than the small number who may find aspects of them a challenge.
In case you missed it, there's a bill before Parliament introducing a number of small though significant amendments. They include real gains for all New Zealand's 2.2 million employees, and their dependants, for instance by extending to all employees the right to request flexible work arrangements from their first day. The current law allows only caregivers to make that request and only after they have been employed for six months.
Another positive is the new law would help protect an employee's rights under the Privacy Act when an organisation restructures its operations. Other employees will no longer have access to information about their colleagues.
A third change proposed would benefit employers and employees by allowing some flexibility over when meal and rest breaks can be taken. This amendment also requires that these breaks are actually provided, though an employer will be able to time them to cover situations where they have to be staggered, for example so machinery can be kept running.
Everyone is quick to bank a win and not think too much about it, which is fair enough as most employers already allow for such things as requests for flexible work arrangements, and breaks.
But some changes are not so popular with some people. These apply to a small minority, just 17 per cent, of the working population involved in collective employment agreements.
When teachers, health workers and other public service employees are excluded, the number of people affected by these changes drops by about half.
Among them are a few desperately resisting any change. When talks over wages and conditions break down, they want to keep the right for the parties to keep talking indefinitely, even if they have nothing left to say. While the talking is going on, nothing else can change.
To most of us this is both obstructive and pointless. It can certainly stifle productivity gains. Most of us just want to get on with the job, and changing the job too, if that's what it takes to keep the business in business and staff employed.
The law change proposed to address this suggests that if, after making strong attempts to resolve their outstanding issues over the wages and conditions in their collective agreement, the parties reach a deadlock, then they can park their talks. The two sides would no longer be obliged to conclude their negotiations. It seems fair enough.
Under the changes, too, where the dialogue has gone on for an extended time without being settled, one party in the talks, or the other, could apply to the Employment Relations Authority to have the bargaining declared at an end. Before that could happen they must have used up all the avenues open to them. Most people too will think that's fair enough.
These amendments would prevent a recurrence of the type of industrial action that held up Ports of Auckland for months last year. Importantly they would prevent a repeat of the financial harm done to many of the port's customers.
Another matter some think contentious is that should a group of employees decide to go on a partial strike, their employer could dock the pay of those involved based on the time they are out on strike, or by 10 per cent. We think that's fair enough too. How can people not working for part of the time expect to be paid as if they were still working fulltime?
Some unions are vigorously contesting a final change which removes the rule requiring employers to pay non-union members at the same rates and conditions as union members for the first 30 days of their employment. Employers see this as a crude way for the union to recruit new members, but the law change proposed in any case would still oblige the employer to advise a new employee when a collective agreement can apply, and if they wanted to be covered by it that the employee would need to join the union. This change is the bare minimum required to make progress.
Unions say the changes will drive down wages, but union membership is not the way most New Zealanders get wage increases and most, 83 per cent, don't see the need to belong to a union. Instead they talk directly to their employer when they believe they deserve a pay rise, or look for better work conditions and higher pay elsewhere.
All in all the amendments are essentially fine-tuning representing small gains for many workers and an incremental step on our labour reform journey.
We fully support them because they are in the interests of the greater good of all New Zealanders, and important for our businesses to remain competitive in rapidly evolving world markets.
Kim Campbell is chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.