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Reflections on the ERA

Written By: - Date published: 2:30 pm, October 22nd, 2009 - 4 comments
Categories: national/act government, workers' rights - Tags: ,

There’s been a fair bit of coverage of John Key’s use of the CTU conference to divide and rule over wages and announce he’ll be making it even easier for employers to sack people without going through the proper process, but it was this statement that really caught my attention:

… the National Party’s election policy outlined some other possible areas for employment law reform. I know you are keen to hear how that work is progressing.

Again, let me be upfront. I understand the Minister of Labour has taken a first look at these issues. The Cabinet is yet to consider any recommendations however. The fact that these issues have not been progressed more rapidly reflects where they sit in the Government’s agenda – they’re not a driving priority.

Of course, you have to take anything Key says with a grain of salt, but I’d read that as saying they’re parking any major reform of the Employment Relations Act for the forseeable future – probably the rest of the term.

There’ll still be piecemeal attacks on work rights – a meal break here, a personal grievance right there, some clawbacks in the Holidays Act – but Key appears to be saying the ERA framework is something National and the business sector can live with.

I’ve got no doubt there may be a bit of realpolitik going on here. Key understandably will have little desire to confront the union movement head-on. They’re a different beast from that the movement National all but destroyed back in 1991, and they’re arguably the only organised fighting force on the left.

But I think it says a lot more about how weak the ERA is than anything else. The fact is the Employment Relations Act has always been a fundamentally neoliberal piece of legislation.

For all the hyperbole and rhetoric we heard from business and from National over the last nine years, by international standards the ERA is heavily slanted in favour of business and against workers. Sure, it was a significant improvement on the ECA, but that’s not hard when the ECA was basically Pinochet without all the shooting.

That’s something for Labour to think about for next time it’s in government. If the ERA is something even a neoliberal like John Key can live with, shouldn’t we be trying for something better?

Daveo

4 comments on “Reflections on the ERA ”

  1. Bill 1

    Never mind the Labour Party, what about the unions?

    Depressingly. Was at a CTU/Labour Party whing ding prior to the election and a union official had the temerity to mention the right to strike (lack of) in an open forum part of the shebang.

    Could have heard a pin drop.

  2. toad 2

    Yeah, privatising ACC was “not a driving priority” either – until last week when the Actoids got a bit uppity!

  3. Brickley Paiste 3

    I don’t think you could be more incorrect – and that fact scares me.

    The rest of what you quoted goes like this:

    “That’s not to say the Government is ruling out any future changes to employment law. We are a solutions-focused government, so if we can see employment law is causing serious problems for people, we will be prepared to look at it.

    When I travel around the country people do raise employment law concerns with me from time to time. The most common problems they point to are with the confusing aspects of the Holidays Act, the lack of flexibility in the rest and meal breaks legislation and the potential abuse and costly nature of personal grievance processes.

    The Government has responded to the first, we are responding to the second, and I’m flagging today that the Minister of Labour will take a look at personal grievance processes as well.”

    That last sentence should give anyone involved in helping employees pause.

    Bye bye procedural fairness. Hello, more or less, fire at will.

    We’ve had the Nats for a year with no substantive change to employee protection.

    Did you think that was going to last forever? Apprently the Labour Party did because they haven’t been out in front of this at all.

  4. Brickley Paiste 4

    “The fact is the Employment Relations Act has always been a fundamentally neoliberal piece of legislation.”

    Bullshit it is. That’s so unhelpful. The duty to conclude a collective agreement. Good faith bargaining. Union access. Section 42 jump. Section 97 scab provisions. Yes, you’re right. All the stuff of unbridled neoliberalism.

    The problem with the union movement is comments like that in your post.

    There are problems: facilitation is bullshit. Etc. However, the Act is definitely employee-focused and better for unions than what came before, as you concede.

    And it is a problem that density has stagnated.

    However, most unions are about as helpful as banks or insurance companies.

    Your point that changing PG rules is a “tweak” shows how unions only care about their own patch — the demarcation disputes of yore.

    What international standards do you refer to? Canada? No. USA? No. Aussie, maybe. UK? No. Sweden/Germany/etc? Maybe.

    I still thinking pissing on the ERA is a stupid move though.

    Compulsory unionism will never ever come back. Density will never ever get back to where it was.

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