Labour's flagship policy of giving unions more power in the workplace has run into rough seas, with the Beehive raising the white flag to New Zealand First and sinking the unions' Good Ship Lollipop.

The unions saw that ship automatically taking them through the employers' gates without permission, which is what the law would have allowed, giving them a fertile breeding ground for membership, or at least that's what their opponents believed. That's been canned with the Employment Relations Bill's report back to Parliament.

Union officials will now be able to enter workplaces only if they're party to collective agreements covering a multitude of employers, or if one is in the process of being negotiated. It now means if they want to get on to other sites they'll have to get the nod of the boss first.


And when it comes to those collective agreements, while employers will have to enter the bargaining process, they're not compelled to settle.

This was the main aspect of the bill that Peters was opposed to, and the employers hated, arguing that a business in Westport shouldn't be bound by the same cuppa tea terms and pay conditions as an Auckland employer, which would have been the case if Peters hadn't got involved.

This bill, debated in Parliament's bear pit last night, now has Peters' party written all over it from the 90-day probationary period, which now applies only to business with 20 or more workers. Of course larger businesses have HR departments which can devise inventive ways of getting rid of people anyway. Labour wanted to get rid of what the unions call the fire-at-will trials until Peters put his highly polished shoe down.

Through gritted teeth the Council of Trade Unions have had to grimace and bear the peeling back of the changes they and Labour wanted. They rightly said most employers won't notice the changes because this country already has similar provisions in law. But they reckon the new law will at least improve workplace culture, like the right to have a cuppa, which in the old politically incorrect days was known as smoko.

They acknowledge the MMP environment can make robust law change more of a challenge but are hanging out for further reforms in the near future.

And the employers are also mildly happy with the changes but expect more as the law makes its way through the process.

Neither will get their way of course. That, in the current political environment, is the sole preserve of Winston Peters.