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Labour Party Targets Pay Rates In Employment Relations Policy

With parallels to employment issues familiar to many working in the aviation industry, New Zealand Labour leader Andrew Little recently announced the party’s employment relations policy. 

Ahead of next month’s General Election, Labour is calling for an end to comparatively low rates of worker pay and to refresh the current employment legislation to stem the ‘race to the bottom’ type of contracting models. 

Using an example from the public transport sector, Little described the increasing trend for companies to contract workers back on lower pay and conditions, to guarantee an already negotiated tender price by reducing worker incomes further. 

“There’s no justification for reducing the price of labour when the nature and scope of the work remains unchanged and the skill level is the same. We simply should not allow it and we won’t,” Little pledged. 

This was attributed to government efforts to lift productivity and innovation further through increasing competition on wages and diminished employment conditions.  To back this up, he pointed to the lack of income movement for New Zealand’s workers. 

  • Despite a growing economy 67% - two-thirds - of workers received a pay increase of less than inflation last year
  • The national average pay rise was 1.3%.
  • The remainder of New Zealanders received no pay rise. 
  • Meanwhile, one in five New Zealanders pay half their weekly income either in rent or towards a mortgage.

“Productivity gains are not achieved by raiding workers’ pay packets. They are achieved through good management and good technology. This is what good employment law must promote.”

“Good employment law should enable employees to be fairly rewarded for their work, ensure fair treatment and should encourage employment relationships based on good quality management and good quality engagement.”

Little was also clear about the continued need for union activity, particularly as the market created differing employment models under the current legislation:

“It is a contract under which the worker submits to the authority of the employer. But those duties do not remove the basic human rights of the worker. The right to be treated fairly and with dignity, to have a voice at work, and the right to form or join a union and to get the benefit of belonging to a union such as your union delegate visiting you at work,”  he said. 

“That’s why what happens under our employment legislation is so important. When the law is fair and affords balance to both sides of the employment relationship, it ought to give confidence to both to create workplace cultures that are respectful, that support engagement and are rewarding and satisfying for everyone.”

“If our statutes allow exploitative practices, we can hardly be surprised when exploitative practices actually happen.”

Central to this, Labour says, would be areas of engagement between employers and workers, together with the capacity and confidence over new technologies and the new employment opportunities that technology brings.

These would include:

Fair Pay Agreements

Labour will work with unions and with businesses to develop a system of Fair Pay Agreements to set a minimum on pay and conditions for workers across an industry.

They also hope this will assist in narrowing the wage gap between New Zealand and Australia.

Living Wage

Public sector employees will be paid the Living Wage and will work with organisations that have regular and ongoing service contracts with the core public service to make sure that they are Living Wage employers too.

Labour would increase the Living Wage to $16.50 then work towards a long term goal of two-thirds of the average wage.

Trial Periods

Labour would abolish ‘fire at will’ law or trial periods.  Labour aims to ‘get the balance right’ through

Ensuring employers are able to take workers on a trial basis;

Requiring the employer to provide feedback during the trial so the employee has a clear picture about how they are doing; and

Put in place a fast, fair, simple referee system for resolving disputes. Claims would be dealt with within three weeks. There would be no cost to the parties and no lawyers would be allowed. And the referee’s decisions will be final.

A ‘Future of Work’ Commission.

A Commission will be launched aimed at “embracing and preparing for technological and social change.”

This would include “investing in young people and the need to lead change and harness the talents of all so that our economy delivers a share in prosperity for all citizens.”

Andrew Little said that New Zealand was in need of a “renewed social partnership between an active and capable government and a business sector focused on innovation and inclusion.” 

More on Labour’s policy on workplace relations can be found at: http://www.labour.org.nz/workplacerelations

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