While the Pike River mining disaster was unfolding the National Government passed new laws to curb workers’ rights.
International mining experts say that the mass deaths in Pike River should not have happened in a modern mine in a developed country. Perhaps they were unaware of the marginalised status of unions in New Zealand? The new laws are designed to keep unions even more sidelined.
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill (No 2) and Holiday Amendment Bill make the following changes from April 2011:
Firstly, the 90 day trial provisions have been extended to all workplaces meaning the employer can sack in that time and the worker has no right of redress. Workers changing jobs will be vulnerable unless they are employed on unionised sites with collective agreements that don’t have 90 day sacking provisions. One positive thing is that this law may highlight the need for collective agreements.
The law change now makes it harder for unions to enter workplaces. Previously the law gave unions access rights (on paper) and employers were expected to comply (breached in practice very often).
Now unions need consent by the employer to visit a workplace. Supposedly there are safeguards against belligerent employers, for instance, consent cannot be unreasonably withheld, and a response to a request must be given by end of the next working day, and reasons for declining must be given within two days. What this law change does however, is give employers greater confidence to keep union officials off worksites, particularly sites where there is not an established union presence.
Employers will now be able to communicate directly with employees during collective bargaining, opening the avenues for undermining bargaining and applying pressure to staff to accept the bosses’ terms.
Employers won’t be expected to follow a tight procedural process when disciplining employees or sacking them. Another confidence booster for the boss.
In keeping with New Zealand being a low waged country employees can now sell off their fourth week’s holiday.
To top off this nasty package an employer can ask for a sick certificate anytime a worker is off sick, as long as the employer pays the doctor’s bill. Getting a doctor’s appointment at a day’s notice is close to impossible, furthermore it’s a ridiculous use of doctor’s time filling out certificates for people who are unwell and likely to be better in a day or two and in no need of medical attention. It’s simply designed to harass workers into going to work when they are unwell.
So all in all, another boot up the backside for workers from the government.
Time to kick back isn’t it.