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Posts Tagged ‘Holidays Act unions’

Employers Stake out 2011 Agenda

The recent comments from Auckland business spokesperson Cameron Brewer, followed within days by similar statements from the Hospitality Association and Retailers Association, give us some inkling of the 2011 general election agenda for some business leaders.

Their calls were for the Government to further erode workers’ rights to payment of time-and-a-half for working on public holidays, but Cameron Brewer went further than this and suggested that the Government should get rid of the Holidays Act completely.

The Government did amend the Holidays Act in 2010 to allow employers to get workers to trade off their fourth weeks annual leave for cash and to allow public holiday observance to be shifted to another day, but this obviously did not go as far as many employers wanted and they are now back for bigger clawbacks from a second-term National Government.

Twenty years ago, when we still had baseline collective agreements that set out mandatory minimum conditions for all workers in most industries (referred to as National Awards), minimum code legislation such as the Holidays Act and the Minimum Wage Act were not very important. However, with the destruction of National Awards, the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act and the movement to a so-called “willing-buyer willing-seller” arrangement in the workplace, the only core things that workers were guaranteed were three weeks annual leave and a minimum wage rate.

All the other conditions, such as maximum hours of work, tea and lunch breaks, overtime rates, night and weekend/public holiday penal rates, sick leave, bereavement leave, jury service leave, long service leave, redundancy compensation payments, shift leave and the variety of allowances that occurred in the National Awards were all burnt on the altar of “freedom to contract”. If you didn’t like the new contract then you could find a job somewhere else and the employer would find someone who was willing to accept the new terms.

Even the then-National Government was so embarrassed about the extent that employment conditions could be reduced that they introduced a “special leave” provision into the Holidays Act to allow workers a minimum 5 days a year (after six months service) for sick, domestic and bereavement leave purposes. The Employment Court also chipped in when they ruled that the observance of public holidays could not simply be taken off workers by their employer forcing them to work. If they were required to work on a public holiday under their employment contract they must be given another day in lieu to observe the public holiday.

Because of the importance of the Holidays Act in providing minimum conditions to hundreds of thousands of Kiwi workers it has been a focus of legislative amendment by both Labour and National.

Labour initially thought that their much-heralded Employment Relations Act 2000 would take the focus off the Holidays Act and allow holiday provisions to the bulk of the NZ workforce to be negotiated in large collective employment agreements. However, the ERA was so weak that it failed to do this and Holidays Act amendments assumed new significance.

In 2003 the Labour Government amended the Holidays Act to introduce time-and-a-half payment for working on public holidays, increased the level of sick leave and bereavement leave, introduced “relevant daily pay” for alternative holidays, sick leave and bereavement leave and eventually allowed the minimum annual leave to be increased from three to four weeks from 1 April 2007.

The predictable business agenda is now being led by those sectors that have been least affected by collective bargaining and whose workforce is most dependent on the Holidays Act.

Their leadership is short-sighted, seeing their economic salvation being in lower wage rates, more casualisation and reduced employer obligation while bemoaning the fact that more and more of the New Zealand workforce is moving to Australia and that New Zealanders are not spending enough to maintain employer profitablity.

It is time that political parties of the centre-left set out a vision that allows the hundreds of thousands of New Zealand workers, who currently watch the battle over their minimum conditions from the sidelines, to be given the right to collectively negotiate these conditions across the industry in which they work and like the politician wage-setting process to have a fall-back umpire who, having heard both worker and employer arguments, can make a mandatory decision on what will apply.

Only then will the steam be taken out of calls for Holidays Act amendment and the real arguments will be around what is currently sustainable in the retail, hospitality and other sectors for the good of both employers and workers.

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