Wednesday, October 31, 2012

National Reverts to Form

The nature of the reforms announced by the Minister of Labour yesterday are encapsulated in the proposal for "Removing the 30-day rule that forces non-union members to take union terms and conditions". This piece of dissimulation typifies these reforms-one's heart bleeds for those workers "forced" to accept inferior working conditions. But opps doesn't the Act actually allow such workers to also agree to any terms not inconsistent with the collective agreement - such as higher wages.  Silly me, it appears that workers are to be freed from the obligation to accept decent conditions to that they can immediately be put on to whatever inferior conditions the employer determines.

What is quite clear is that the National Government and its Parliamentary allies are launching an attack on the most vulnerable groups of workers, the young and the precariously employed. The reduction in the minimum wage for under 18 year olds signaled an opening shot of this new campaign and yesterday's announcement carries on the offensive.   I will look at the reforms in more detail later but some points might be highlighted:

(a) the 6A exemption for SMEs of course leaves the employees of such firms even more vulnerable to employment insecurity and cuts in working conditions.  No doubt also many larger firms will be restructuring to take advantage of the SME exception.  It also seems likely that the implied warranty against unreasonably increasing employee entitlements will have a chilling effect on improving employee terms and conditions as existing employers seek to avoid legal risk.

(b)The changes to collective bargaining laws are likely to further undermine collective bargaining and provide employers with options to walk away from bargaining.  How these changes will affect the bargaining facilitation and determination provisions of the Act is not explained but is unlikely to be in a positive way.  One suspects that these changes may have some impact in the state sector by enabling state sector employers to stonewall bargaining with the still large state sector unions and then to seek a declaration that bargaining has ended. It was after all a state sector case that prevented an employer's attempt to declare that bargaining had ended.

(c) The rest and meal break provisions, one might recall, were introduced into Parliament some years ago to prevent the countries airports grinding to a halt along with other overstated and over-hyped consequences of allowing workers proper rests.  The country has got along well  without these reforms so the motive for them is obscure.  Unless, possibly, it is the provisions in the Bill that effectively allow employers to effectively eliminate breaks or to require employees to remain at work during breaks that the Government wishes to advance.