National has lodged a series of amendments to the Government's employment bill before Parliament and is challenging New Zealand First to support them.
The amendments would effectively overturn the changes in the Government bill – and are therefore unlikely to be formally accepted for debate under the rules of Parliament.
But National's move is a bid to exploit potential differences between the Government Coalition partners, New Zealand First and Labour, over the bill which emerged from a select committee this week.
According to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, the Council of Trade Unions met with officials from his office today about the bill.
National's amendments would:
-Keep 90-day trials for all businesses instead of just for businesses with fewer than 20 employees;
-Allow businesses to opt out of collective contracts and multi-employer collective agreements (MECAs) instead of requiring them be part of them;
-Require union officials to get an employer's permission before entering a workplace;
-Ensure employers don't have to pay for union delegates doing union work during paid hours.
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill is the first set of employment reforms under the Government which would reinstate some measures that National took away.
The bill was negotiated between Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens.
New Zealand First modified Labour's bid to get rid of 90-day trials for new employees altogether and under the bill it will be kept for small employers, with fewer than 20 employees. The move was welcomed by employer groups.
Since the bill emerged from the select committee virtually unchanged, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has said employers in the regions would like further changes, such as the right to opt out of multi-employer collective agreements.
"Regional employers are genuinely apprehensive they will be shoe-horned into a cost structure that they feel is perhaps more appropriate to metropolitan parts of New Zealand, as opposed to Hokitika or Invercargill or Kaitaia," Jones told reporters yesterday.
"And that is exactly what the CEO of Juken Nissho said to me during the telephone call when he announced that 50 people unfortunately were going to lose their jobs in Kaitaia."
Speaking about unions being upset by any further dilution of the bill, Jones said: "I was a politician in the Labour Party and I know exactly how the unions think and I mean no disrespect to them but they need to know that I am a New Zealand First politician."
Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said all three parties of Government supported the bill. But he echoed Peters is saying that changes could be made at committee stages in the bill.
Announcing the amendments National would try to put up, leader Simon Bridges said the Government had shown contempt for large and small business by ignoring all of their submissions on the bill.
"Instead of helping business grow and create more jobs, the Government wants to take us backwards in a return to 1970s-style adversarial union activity that would ultimately hurt all New Zealanders."
He said the changes proposed by the Government were ideologically driven and would add to business costs, hurt productivity, stifle innovation and do nothing to improve the position of workers.