Last week, a couple of papers fell off the back of a truck which were of particular interest to Kiwi workers. They outlined the government’s changes to labour laws and gave the Department of Labour’s assessment and warnings about the consequences of the government’s changes.
I thought the Minister of Labour would get the hint that Labour knew more than she was telling when I asked her a question in the House last Wednesday. Then in my speech on Tau Henare’s strike ballot bill I outlined the stupidity of her government’s proposals in regard to pay reductions for partial strikes – and she was in the House listening.
So I was gobsmacked that when the papers were revealed in the Dompost, Kate Wilkinson suggested that I had made them up. Later that day, the government was forced to come clean and made the announcements I knew were coming.
The changes will systematically take apart our labour relations framework, part by part and clause by clause. Our employment law will still be called the Employment Relations Act, but the worst provisions of that most draconian of employment laws from the 1990’s, the Employment Contracts Act will replace much of it. They will do nothing to address the most volatile industrial relations environment we’ve seen in NZ in years, and will definitely do nothing to increase wages and provide decent work.
The government is couching their plans in the Crosby Textor language of “choice, balance, flexibility” and are described as “minor” by the PM John Key.
That’s rubbish. We’ve got a wages crisis in New Zealand and that’s because our employment relations system isn’t working to ensure fairness for working people. The government’s changes will make this worse.
Last week, when we were debating Tau Henare’s secret ballots for strikes bill (which has now passed and will soon become law), National Party MPs indulged themselves in an outburst of the “free at last” quote from Martin Luther King.
Well, that great man died in Memphis when he was attending a struggle for the right of public workers to have a union and to collectively bargain.
King declared : “Let it be known everywhere, that along with wages and all of the other securities that you are struggling for, you are also struggling for the right to organise and be recognised.” The key issues for the Memphis strikers were their demands that the City of Memphis grant collective bargaining rights and the collection of union fees.
I’m taking bets on how many National MPs stand up and quote Martin Luther King on collective bargaining and workers rights when these miserable changes come to the Parliament.
And let it be known everywhere : Labour will oppose these changes vigorously and determinedly.