15 Jun 2013

CTU says bill makes it harder to protect workers

8:36 am on 15 June 2013

Trade unions say legislation allowing the use of strike breakers is draconian.

The bill in the name of the National Party MP Jami-Lee Ross was drawn from the Member's ballot at Parliament on Thursday.

Prime Minister John Key says the Government will support sending the legislation to a select committee.

The bill would repeal a part of the Employment Relations Act 2000 that prevents an employer using volunteers, contractors or other casual employees during a strike or lockout.

Mr Ross says the law as it stands creates an imbalance that can considerably impact on the productivity of a workplace.

"If there's going to be that right to strike there has to be the ability for an employer at times of an extended strike to keep the business operating."

Council of Trade Unions secretary Peter Conway says strikes are a last-resort measure, but the bill would destroy their effectiveness.

"If every time workers go on strike employers can just bring in some of the 146,000 people unemployed, or whoever they can employ to undermine the strike, then that makes it even harder to improve pay and conditions and protect existing conditions of workers in New Zealand.

"It's also going to mean more conflict between strikers and replacement labour."

Mr Key said he acknowledges that the legislation might be controversial and that opponents will see it as promoting the use of scab labour.

However, he said strikes at the country's ports, for example, have a much wider impact on other industries, so it is not straightforward and there needs to be debate on the issue.

The Maritime Union, which has been in dispute with Ports of Auckland over employment conditions for 18 months, says it would be nowhere under the proposed legislation.

Wellington employment lawyer Peter Cullen says the bill shifts all power from the workers to the employer.