The languid Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson has announced today that employment provisions under Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act are to be reviewed.
Part 6A was passed by Parliament in 2004 and subsequently amended in 2006, with a provision agreed with NZ First that the amendment be reviewed within three years. A review could be good, or it could be horrible. It’s Kate’s chance to do something worthwhile.
I have a special interest in this. I campaigned with my union and in Labour for legislative change to deal with the devastating effects of more than a decade of competitive tendering and the repetitive contracting-out of thousands of low-paid workers. As businesses sought on-going cost reductions, particularly in easily outsourced work, such as cleaning, food services, and orderly and laundry services, the effect on the workers was catastrophic.
Workers lost their jobs, often at short notice, in a process that could be repeated up to four times a year. Contractors sought to win business by reducing hours of employment, pay and conditions, so even where workers continued to be employed by the incoming contractor, they had to do the same (or more) work on less pay and severely reduced hours of work.
Labour implemented Part 6A as a crucial part of improving job security and protection for these low paid, vulnerable workers. Essentially, it gives workers in particular industries the right to transfer on the same pay and conditions to a new contractor or employer in the event of contracting out or change of employer.
I haven’t sensed any big push by employers to change it – even although when it was first passed in 2004, the hysteria around it was pretty loud. Don Brash promised to dump it in the 2005 election, but by 2008 that had disappeared from National’s manifesto.
Kate says that “the review will consider whether Part 6A has achieved its policy objectives and whether the special protections provided for some workers are relevant within the current business and policy environment, or if there are other ways of achieving the objectives.” It will also look at employee protection provisions that are required to be added to an employment contract when a business is restructuring.
The Minister says that if there is a need for improvement she will be happy to look at suitable amendments.
Here’s two ideas for Kate :
1. First and foremost, the provisions in part 6A must not be watered down, but they could be improved.
They could be extended to workers in other industries, where contracting out and restructuring have continued and the workers have been powerless to challenge the inevitable pressure on jobs and pay.
2. Minimum redundancy notice and pay for all workers should be considered.
Part 6A provides for workers in specific industries who have been transferred to a new employer to bargain redundancy and in the event this cannot be agreed, for the Employment Authority to determine minimum entitlements. But it rules out those workers whose employment agreements expressly exclude redundancy pay. And there are no redundancy protections at all for other workers.
Since Part 6A became law, the recession has seen thousands of workers lose their jobs with little notice and no redundancy pay. The review of Part 6A is a great opportunity to consider implementing minimum redundancy entitlements for all workers.
Will the Minister take the chance?