16 Jul 2010

Proposed work law changes split business, unions

9:45 pm on 16 July 2010

Business groups and unions are predictably split in their opinions of the Government's plans to change the labour laws, particularly by extending the 90-day trial period of employment to more and bigger firms.

The chief executive of the Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce, Peter Townsend, says that the 90-day scheme has been an outstanding success and that restricting it to smaller companies is unnecessary.

Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Helen Kelly, on the other hand, says she has seen some cases of the 90-day period being misused by employers, and she does not want it expanded.

The Maori Party is also worried about the effect an extension to the scheme could have on Maori workers.

Prime Minister John Key is expected to foreshadow the changes at the National Party's annual conference in Auckland this weekend.

Radio New Zealand's political staff understand that they will include not only an extension to the 90-day scheme but new rules relating to union access to workplaces.

Change 'would bring NZ into line'

The 90-day scheme, which allows a new worker to be fired within the first three months of employment without the right to take a personal grievance, is currently restricted to workplaces with fewer than 20 employees.

Mr Key says a Department of Labour survey analysing the trial period found it had been overwhelmingly successful.

The Northern Employers and Manufacturers Assocation's David Lowe says the proposed change would bring New Zealand's law into line with other countries. He says workers can still ask to opt out of having a trial period in their contract.

And the chief executive of Business New Zealand, Phil O'Reilly, says extending the 90-day scheme to more firms will allow businesses to risk hiring someone they otherwise might not have hired.

Mr Key says he doesn't believe the 90-day scheme will be abused if it's extended to more businesses. It has got a number of people into work who might not have been given the opportunity otherwise, he says.

But Maori Party MP Te Ururoa Flavell says such a change could add salt to the wounds of young Maori who are already finding it hard to get jobs.

An attack on workers, says Goff

Labour leader Phil Goff says employers can already get rid of staff who are not performing and the move is an attack on workers when unemployment is high.

Helen Kelly is also opposed to restricting union access to workplaces, which she says would be a serious breach of human rights.

CTU secretary Peter Conway says that the Prime Minister has breached workers' trust but that the bigger concern is that workers could be denied access to unions.

Mr Conway says Mr Key had said that curbing union access to work sites would not be on the agenda.

But Mr Key says unions will absolutely continue to have workplace access - they will just have to get permission first

Small-business owner rates scheme

A Mount Maunganui small-business owner who has employed a worker under the 90-day rule says it gave him more assurance about the worker's ability than any interview could.

The owner of Santa Fe Shutters and Blinds, Paul Christie, says that so far he has used the trial period with one of his 14 staff members and it has been a success.

The Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce's Peter Townsend told Nine to Noon that restricting the scheme to smaller companies was an artificial barrier that has been politically driven.

Mr Townsend says his organisation deals with 3000 employers and there have been no problems with the scheme from either side.