Law change during industrial disaster

Daphna Whitmore

While the Pike River mining disaster was unfolding the National Government passed new laws to curb workers’ rights.

Thousands protest against the law changes

International mining experts say that the mass deaths in Pike River should not have happened in a modern mine in a developed country. Perhaps they were unaware of the marginalised status of unions in New Zealand? The new laws are designed to keep unions even more sidelined.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2) and Holiday Amendment Bill make the following changes from April 2011:

Firstly, the 90 day trial provisions have been extended to all workplaces meaning the employer can sack in that time and the worker has no right of redress. Workers changing jobs will be vulnerable unless they are employed on unionised sites with collective agreements that don’t have 90 day sacking provisions. One positive thing is that this law may highlight the need for collective agreements.

The law change now makes it harder for unions to enter workplaces. Previously the law gave unions access rights (on paper) and employers were expected to comply (breached in practice very often).

Now unions need consent by the employer to visit a workplace. Supposedly there are safeguards against belligerent employers, for instance, consent  cannot be unreasonably withheld, and a response to a request must be given by end of the next working day, and reasons for declining must be given within two days. What this law change does however, is give employers greater confidence to keep union officials off worksites, particularly sites where there is not an established union presence.
Employers will now be able to communicate directly with employees during collective bargaining, opening the avenues for undermining bargaining and applying pressure to staff to accept the bosses’ terms.

Employers won’t be expected to follow a tight procedural process when disciplining employees or sacking them. Another confidence booster for the boss.

In keeping with New Zealand being a low waged country employees can now sell off their fourth week’s holiday.

To top off this nasty package an employer can ask for a sick certificate anytime a worker is off sick, as long as the employer  pays the doctor’s bill. Getting a doctor’s appointment at a day’s notice is close to impossible, furthermore it’s a ridiculous use of doctor’s time filling out certificates for people who are unwell and likely to be better in a day or two and in no need of medical attention. It’s simply designed to harass workers into going to work when they are unwell.

So all in all, another boot up the backside for workers from the government.

Time to kick back isn’t it.

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Comments

  1. I can’t help but being very cynical about the way the media focused entirely on the Pike River issue on Wednesday night ON TV.

    Could they have done this to conceal the two bills mentioned above?

  2. Don Franks says:

    “To top off this nasty package an employer can ask for a sick certificate anytime a worker is off sick, as long as the employer pays the doctor’s bill. Getting a doctor’s appointment at a day’s notice is close to impossible, furthermore it’s a ridiculous use of doctor’s time filling out certificates for people who are unwell and likely to be better in a day or two and in no need of medical attention. It’s simply designed to harass workers into going to work when they are unwell.”

    Well put.

    Two things strike me about that particular part of National’s package.
    First is, employers have been after that ‘reform’ for many years and I can tell you that their first attempts were uncertain and relatively easily rebuffed.
    I recall being an award assessor not long after I started working, where at award talks, the employer’s advocate asked for a note after one day and seeing him blown away by incredulous indignation from the workers side of the table. Our advocate cited all the arguments as above. He did that buoyed by a breezy confidence of knowing that he’d be supported 100% by the next stopwork meeting. Even the most timid and the most inclined to suck up to the company would draw the line at needing a doctor’s note for one day.
    Our class had more jobs and organisation and confidence then.

    The other thing that strikes me about this doctor’s note for one day is the fact that if it was imposed on the Kiwiblog types of this world they would instantly squeal to the rafters about the stupid unreasonableness of the law change. Those above the Plimsol line of jobs will not be made to get a note when they have a cold or a hangover.If there was any chance they would, you’d have heard their howling their eyes out already.
    Because this scourge of the sick is visited on the lowest paid least organised sections of the working class it is tolerable to polite society. For the rest of us its another good reason to hate the capita;list system and strive our best to step up and throttle it.

  3. As a supervisor at a relatively un-organised workplace I can actually highlight the reasons people would ask for these changes. I was victim to a campaign of harassment and abuse by a unionised worker (non-Unite) who was doing things not for any total gain or injustice, but simply because they didn’t like me. HAd we been able to access any of these laws then myself and several other co-workers at that employee’s level would not have had to deal with the constant abuse, bullying and false absenteeism that was dealt to us with no repurcussions.

    I agree that restricting Union access is a very dangerous idea but there needs to be a more clear path to people abusing these laws that currently does not exist. I, as a supervisor and leader of a team, should never have to come to work to answer questions as to why an abusive and deliberately destuctive person is protected by law and the rest of us are not. Protecting the rights of the individual are very necessary, but how much protection do they get to sacrifice the rights of the rest of us?

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