Changes to the Employment Relation Act: what they are and how they will impact you
The changes, set out in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, are designed to push down wages and undermine hard-won conditions.
Employers will be able to walk away from bargaining
Employers can walk away from negotiations for collective agreements without a genuine reason to do so. In the recent Ports of Auckland dispute this is what stopped the company's plan to sack all its workers during bargaining.
This change will let employers say they have had enough of bargaining at any point and there will be nothing workers can do. Equally employers will be able threaten to give workers' jobs to someone else while they are bargaining to force them to agree. This tips the balance of power in negotiations towards employers.
New staff will be employed on less pay and worse conditions
Right now, new employees are covered by the collective agreement in their workplace for the first 30 days. This means employers are not allowed to pay less that what is in place. Employees are at their most vulnerable when they are new to the job as they have little bargaining power. This protection is to be stripped away so they can be paid less and open to instant dismissal. Over time this will reduce everyone’s pay and conditions: the Cabinet paper recommending these changes, signed by the Minister of Labour, actually says they, “will enable employers to offer individual terms and conditions that are less than those in the collective agreement”.
Meal and rest breaks
The Bill removes the guaranteed minimum break times, allowing employers to decide how long breaks will be. It also allows employers to decide that breaks can be at the very beginning or end of the working day, and that they can be paid out rather than being taken.
All industrial action will require notice
Unions will have to give notice of all strikes. This will make it more difficult for members to take industrial action for better pay and conditions.
Fines for partial strikes and working-to-rule
Your employer will be able to deduct a portion of your pay for a partial strike, such as not answering the phone or working-to-rule (only doing what is in your contract or job description).
Job protection will be stripped away
At present, the law protects the jobs and conditions of low-paid workers, such as in home care, when a contract changes hands. The government plans to strip away this protection for workplaces with fewer than 20 employees. These workers will have no job security when a contract changes to a new employer.
Employers able to opt out of MECA bargaining
Employers will be able to withdraw from bargaining for multi-employercollective agreements (MECAs) by giving 10 days’ notice at the start of negotiations – this could dismantle MECAs that have brought steady improvements in pay and conditions for union members.
No access to your employment information
If your job is under threat, your employer will be able to withhold information from you if, for example, it refers to another person. This could make it impossible to defend yourself in a disciplinary situation or to challenge a redundancy.
Speak with your co-workers about these changes and what you can do about them. Suggest stop-work meetings to your delegates. Least of all, submissions against the Bill can be made here (closes 25 July): http://union.org.nz/whycutourpay/submission