Workplaces at risk

14 June 2018

An important piece of legislation is currently being deliberated on at Parliament. The blandly titled Employment Relations Amendment Bill, once passed, will aff establish our industrial relations framework for at least the term of this Parliament. 


The Otago Southland Employers' Association and BusinessNZ have submitted our concerns to Parliament. Our submissions have been characterised as “anti-union” by some. That is not correct. Unions play an important part in negotiating and managing large collective agreements on behalf of workers. Business understands the need for good relationships with unions representing workers because our workers are essential for business success.


However the ER Amendment Bill has the potential to undermine that relationship. How?


First, provisions of the Bill will legislate to compel businesses to collectively bargain.


But the basis of bargaining in New Zealand and international law is that it is voluntary. Making it compulsory to bargain is a breach of ILO conventions ratified by the last Labour Government.


Second, under the legislation union officials will have much greater access to workplaces to recruit members. I don’t have any problem with access to workplaces to discuss union business, and even to recruit.


But I do have a problem with the unfettered access this legislation provides. Union officials won’t have to seek permission to enter the workplace, nor will they have to give notice of their visit. For context, even labour inspectors have to provide notice when they want to arrive for a labour inspection.


Federated Farmers have noted that this would mean in the case of farmers - where their home is often their office - that union officials could access their home without permission. I doubt this would seem reasonable to most New Zealanders


Third, if a union recruits two members from a workplace then the union can then compel a business to collectively bargain, even if the rest of the people in that workplace are not union members. 


Fourth, the legislation would compel employers to provide personal information about a new employee to a union. Given the recent furore around Facebook’s use of personal information for marketing purposes, I doubt if many would see it as fair and reasonable for legislation to compel your employer to provide your information to any third party, no matter who they are.


These are only a few of the issues. Currently unionisation in the private sector is around 12%. As with any other business, adaptation and innovation is important for unions’ survival. Legislating to protect a marketing base for membership won’t help unions to adapt, innovate and survive.


What the legislation will do is undermine trust by testing the boundaries of what most New Zealanders think as fair.


If you don’t like what you have heard I suggest you contact your MP to voice your concerns.


Kirk Hope, CEO BusinessNZ