Employment Relations Law Reform Bill – In Committee

The Green Party, as everyone knows – and it has been promoted by the National Party – is supporting this bill, which does lead to greater fairness for workers and employers in industrial relations. It will lead to much better relations in our society.

One of the previous speakers I think it was Wayne Mapp – said that unions will now target vulnerable sectors of our economy such as the waterfront. He referred back to the recent industrial dispute involving waterfront workers and their employers. Well, that dispute was largely over the question of casualisation. In so far as the proportion of the workforce who are employed full time on the work, that goes up, and the casual sector goes down, there will be better relations on the waterfront because there will not be a volatile workforce. There will be a more stable workforce for the employers, and everyone will be much happier. The more full time workers there are the more they can satisfy the needs of themselves and their families. So that is very much a step in the right direction.

I cannot quite understand what Maurice Williamson is saying. He is saying how unjust it is that the increases negotiated by unions don’t get passed on to non-union people in the workplace. Well, I listen to the National Party sometimes talking about hard work, people being rewarded for their hard work, and all the rest of it. Yet they are arguing for, as existed prior to this amendment that is going through, the situation of freeloading people who do nothing to help improve their conditions, and yet benefit by riding on the back of their fellow workers in that enterprise. I do not see how the National Party can stand for that and still support the idea of people working and benefiting from their work.

The National Party goes on about the question of choice, and that people have chosen not to join a union. Well, the fact of the matter is that during the period of the Employment Contracts Act the proportion of union members in the New Zealand workforce went down very dramatically. It has stabilised, and in some areas has come up, under the Employment Relations Act. But it is still at a very low level.

One has to ask why New Zealand has such a low level of unionisation. I have just been to Norway and Sweden where they have a very high proportion – 60 percent or something of the workforce unionised. The reason is that it has been hard, even under the Employment Relations Act sometimes, for unions to try to talk to workers and get them to join. Of course, in a lot of workplaces, particularly smaller ones, the employer can put quite a strong pressure on people who might want to become union members, not to become union members. So this bill, as it better establishes good-faith bargaining, will help, I think, improve that situation and get New Zealand back closer to what we could consider an international norm among the more developed countries in terms of unionisation.

Ross Wilson has been criticised very much in the debate this afternoon as somehow giving orders to the Government. I do not know the details of all the accusations that have been raised. But I did read a press release today from the said Ross Wilson. I only wish that he could come into the lobbies and tell the Government members about this. But he has not made very much impact on the Government yet. I will just read two sentences out of this press release, which relates to the Ahmed Zaoui case:

“It is fundamental that the Inspector General should have to take into account Zaoui’s human rights and the Court of Appeal decision should be acted on without further delay.

“It is understandable that our Government should be concerned about national security but all the judicial bodies which have considered the case so far, including the Refugee Status Appeal Authority and the Court of Appeal, have been clearly of the view that Mr Zaoui poses no significant threat.”