Centralised awards not on agenda, CTU says

Helen Kelly
Helen Kelly
Claims the Labour Party is considering a return to centralised wage fixing is being dismissed by the Council of Trade Unions.

Business New Zealand is warning that talk of rights-based employment terms and conditions would lead to the protracted industrial strikes of the 1970s and 1980s, and that employment terms and conditions negotiated by large Auckland employers would be imposed on small businesses throughout the country.

The Labour Party's former employment spokesman, Trevor Mallard, earlier this month spoke of a rights-based framework for industrial relations, which is supported by the Council of Trade Unions but strongly opposed by Business New Zealand.

Mr Mallard told a conference of the Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand that a new layer above the current employer or multi-employer based collective bargaining would be created that allowed workers the right to be included in a new form of facilitated bargaining with an arbitration body.

This system would extend throughout an industry, standardising terms and conditions which had been created by union collective bargaining with employers.

An employer could opt out by negotiating a collective agreement with the union, Mr Mallard explained.

Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Helen Kelly said the proposal was not a return to national awards, but extended agreed industry standards throughout an industry.

"It will allow broader collective coverage based on industry norms.

"Industry standards negotiated by collective bargaining."

Business New Zealand chief executive Phil O'Reilly rejected that, saying it was a return to the central wage fixing or awards of the 1970s and 1980s, something he experienced first-hand as an employer-negotiator at the time.

That system led to protracted strikes such as at the Clyde dam, Mangere bridge and strikes on the Cook Strait ferry coinciding with holidays.

"All that was caused by centralised bargaining and it will be back, mark my word."

Under the Labour Party's proposal, he said a union could negotiate terms and conditions with a large Auckland supermarket, and those conditions would be applied to all supermarkets throughout the country.

Small employers would have to adopt terms and conditions that unions had negotiated with large employers.

To opt out, a small employer would still have to bargain with a union even though it may have individual contracts or agreements with its non-unionised workforce, Mr O'Reilly said.

He wants the Labour Party to say whether or not the discussion was the basis of policy.

The Labour Party's newly appointed labour spokeswoman, Darien Fenton, said the proposed policy was still under consideration by its policy committee and union affiliates.

They had not spoken to Business New Zealand.

She said the principle behind it was to allow workers the freedom to access collective bargaining.

"We want more workers to be able to access collective bargaining because at the moment, for the majority of workers, especially in the private sector, wages are unilaterally set by an employer."

She agreed this could result in Auckland wages being applied throughout the country, but that would come down to negotiation.

Equally, it was possible wages could be negotiated higher for Auckland to reflect the cost of living.

Ms Kelly said agreed industry standards could include pay rate ranges for builders, or the system of changing rosters for the hospitality industry.

The process would expose more workers to the work trade unions did, she said, but she felt that expanding protection for workers was a far more important goal.

"This isn't about building unions, but building workers' voice."


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