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Catherine Delahunty Speaks on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill

Catherine Delahunty MP
catherine [dot] delahunty [at] parliament [dot] govt [dot] nz (Email)
The Green Party is ashamed of the Government for having this bill. We will never support such legislation.
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Kia ora, Mr Assistant Speaker. He mihi nui ki te Whare Paremata.

Welcome to the glorious 19th century, dressed up in the not-so-new flexibility-speak. At the final moment of this bill, let us drop the charade.

The Government has a clear goal to remove basic organising rights for working people, reduce wages, and reduce union power.

I am holding up a broken cup today. This broken cup symbolises that tea break rights are broken. It is not an accident that the cup is broken. The purpose of the law is to entrench the power of employers to decide what happens in the workplace—from bargaining participation, down to the tea break. If anyone wants to strike about this, book it in the diary and promise you will be back at work at a set time, not when the power balance has been restored. That is what this bill is about.

Let us not forget, in the glorious 19th century, that slavery increased production. It was very flexible—incredibly flexible. The employers were flexible. So long as the slaves did not expect anything, it was fine. The broken teacup is only one part of the awful Dickensian plan, but one of the problems we face is that younger citizens do not know what unions are, let alone read Charles Dickens. That is one of the challenges in the 21st century, with this 19th century approach.

The broken cup represents the breach of the vestiges of good faith left in the employment relationship—the attacks on multi-employer collective, industry standards, rest and meal breaks, strikes and lockouts, the 30-day rule for new employees, lack of protection for restructuring, and more. These are all losses of rights, being deliberately created. The privileged do not need to understand them. The contracted people in the middle classes and the low-waged workers often do not even realise they are losing them.

Let us get down to brass tacks—concrete issues, such as others have talked about. A friend of mine works in a bakery in a supermarket. Her current tea break consists of 10 minutes, but it takes 10 minutes to walk to the tea room, so it is already quite academic. Her employer is not very concerned about that. She stands up for the rest of the time. She is not allowed to sit down in the bakery. They stand up. And then she gets to walk for 10 minutes to the tea room, and then her tea break is over. This bill will now remove the charade and prevent any pressure on any employer to actually provide a tea break at all. It is really going to work, for the employer.

Today workplace safety was exposed as another charade in the ports around this country. But the contracting culture and the weakening of collective organising means that no one is ultimately responsible now for the safety of workers in what need not be a dangerous place. This applies to forestry as well as ports, which have a hideous and a very recent growing record of workplace deaths.

Perhaps the cup of tea might be a good idea for this whole House, in this legislation—perhaps a tea break on this assault on workers' rights. Perhaps we should all take the breather and the cup of tea and actually have a bit of a think about what it is like for other people, and show some empathy for people who are vulnerable in their workplaces.

However, people and rights can be broken, as this cup has been. But if this speeds up production, eliminates collective strength, and facilitates employer power to work away from fair negotiation, that might sound all right for some people.

For others it is literally a disaster. For the benefit of people with no imagination and no experience of unfair power balances in their workplace—and myself, after 10 year in a shearing gang, I could talk to you quite a lot about that—the value of collective organising is lost on them, so I need to spell it out. Everyone, except greedy employers, benefits when people have rights at work and the right to stand together for fair wages and conditions.

The Green Party says to working people of this country: "This bill may try and break your cup, but we will stand beside you." There is a positive solution to employment relationships. It is called justice and respect—respect for collective bargaining, fair wages and conditions, and a good cup of tea. Everyone benefits from that working environment. Higher wages, great working conditions, and a recognition of the need to balance power results in better relationships. And better relationships are what make everything work. Therefore, the Green Party is ashamed of the Government for having this bill. We will never support such legislation.

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