The Working Group set up in June 2018 to consider reform of the wage bargaining system in NZ industry has reported back to the Minister, Iain Lees Galloway.
The Minister says that the Coalition Government “has committed to improving incomes and working conditions for New Zealanders, focusing first on the wages and conditions of those who earn the least.”
He notes that as it currently stands, “employers who pay their staff a fair wage are being undercut by competitors paying below a fair rate. It’s a classic race to the bottom that’s damaging people’s prospects and holding many industries back.”
The report is substantial, detailed and appears determined to level the industrial playing field. You can read it here.
So, good news for workers, bad news for exploiters.
The Working Group, chaired by former Tory PM Jim Bolger, was tasked with making recommendations to the Government on a model for a system of bargaining to set minimum terms and conditions of employment across all industries and occupations.
This should mean that workers in an industry will have certainty that they will receive the going rate in an industry, regardless of who their employer is. It has significant benefit to business as well, forcing the rat bags in an industry to meet the mark. At present, good employers are competing with companies who use poverty wages as a business model.
To use the Talley Group as an example, the fourth largest meat company can offer better rates to farmers for stock because paying lower wages than others in the industry is an effective subsidy at the farm gate.
Predictably, employers reps on the working group don’t like the compulsory aspect of the proposal.
For some bosses, compulsion is a good only when they have the power to force compliance. For example, I don’t recall too many employers complaining about 90 day fire at will trials.
The way the system will work if adopted is broadly similar to the Aussie model; industry wide minimums negotiated centrally, without resort to industrial action. Then unions and employers will bargain on top of those minimums in the usual way, with industrial action a possibility, as it is now.
Obviously, if workers want to get the best of both, they’ll have to join a union. That’s a good thing.
The proposal will still have to make it through cabinet, and then Parliament, but I have a sneaking feeling that the Minister is determined to see this process through.
Currently exploited and undervalued Kiwi workers will have reason to thank Iain Lees Galloway every pay day if he can get it over the line.