A fair slice for workers, or will it stall growth?

The business community warns of the threat to continued growth in the Bay of Plenty posed by proposed changes to industrial relations legislation. But the government says it’s about fairness for workers and restoring parity.

“Workers have fallen behind,” says Tauranga list MP Jan Tinetti. “The country has become more unequal.”

At the heart of the argument is the Employment Relations Amendment Bill which Jan says will “address the squeeze on middle-income workers”.

The government says the Bill is aimed at restoring minimum standards and protections for employees, and to strengthen collective bargaining and union rights in the workplace. The changes, the government says, are intended to introduce greater workplace fairness between employees and employers, in order to promote productive employment relationships.

But in an email, the business lobby group Priority One has encouraged members to make themselves aware of the proposed changes. “And to get involved, if appropriate,” says chief executive, Nigel Tutt.

“While the growth outlook in our region is strong, I want to draw your attention to potential changes on the horizon,” says Nigel in his memo to members.  “We think that these changes could negatively affect the environment that Bay of Plenty businesses operate in and potentially hamper business growth.

“The combination of proposed changes to business rights under industrial relations law and the removal of trial periods for employers is something that we believe businesses should be aware of and have their say in.”

However, Jan says the Amendment Bill will ensure workers receive their fair share of the economic growth Nigel refers to. “For the most part, the proposed changes will return New Zealand to the employment relations framework under the previous Labour government. It’s nothing new and will return fairness to our country’s employment law.”

Priority One has directed its members to www.fixthebill.co.nz – an Employers and Manufacturers (EMA) website.

The EMA website claims the bill will undo many of the gains made in employment relations in the past few decades, will seriously reduce employers’ ability to engage and develop staff, and would put the brakes on business growth.

It lists what it sees as four main concerns – employers with 20 or more workers losing the right to include the 90-day trial period in employment agreements; allowing union reps access to workplaces without permission; forcing businesses to settle collective agreements; and businesses not having the choice to opt out of multi-employer collective agreements.

The EMA has attached an email “strongly opposing” those aspects of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2018 which businesses can send to the Labour, Green, and NZ First parties.

Jan agrees with Priority One that the growth outlook for the region is strong, but says the Employment Relations Amendment Bill will ensure everyone shares in the benefits.

“The government will always listen to businesses when we’re developing new workplace policies, and I am planning with meeting Priority One in coming weeks.”