The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson has been coming under fire in some quarters for not pushing through changes to employment laws – the people who think all National needs to do is smash unions and everything will be back to its rightful place in the world.
Labour will mount strong opposition to any changes to the Employment Relations Act that undermine collective bargaining and wage setting. The already signalled employment law changes are designed to undermine the role of unions as standard setters for hundreds of thousands of New Zealand wage and salary earners – whether they are union members or not. Simply put, it will help drive wages lower.
Many reports about growing inequality, including those from the OECD and IMF, acknowledge the decline of collective bargaining and unions as a contributor to the growing gap between rich and poor. Labour will stand up for unions as the internationally recognised partner in collective bargaining, because there is no other proven method or system to help working people receive decent wages, safe working conditions, or a voice on the job.
But I want to give credit to Kate Wilkinson who believes that tackling our awful death and injury toll in the workplace goes beyond politics and there should be cross party work on it. Labour agrees and has taken up her offer to be consulted about the Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety. The Taskforce’s consultation document was released today.
The deaths of 29 miners at Pike River and subsequent industrial disasters have shocked us all. The memories of those who died at work demand we work together to ensure that these kind of losses never happens again – no matter who the government is. 100 workers die every year in New Zealand’s workplaces and this is one workplace statistic we beat Australia at - to our shame.
There will be areas where Labour will disagree and we will say so. We will have differences about workplace rights and their interface with health and safety. We cannot expect people to speak out about dangerous work practices if they are on a 90 day trial, for example.
And I’m sure that saying nice things about the Minister won’t help her with the puerile campaign from CrestClean and their supporters.
But some things, such as tackling our appalling record of workers dying or being injured on the job every week, are just more important than politics.