One of the lines the Government uses to defend its attacks on our employment rights is that these are just “technical” changes designed to “tidy up” our employment laws.
If you take the individual proposals on their own, you might be convinced that this is the case. It all sounds very complicated and it’s hard to see what each change will do by itself.
But when you take it all together, you see that these changes are designed to stop collective bargaining from happening.
The first “technical” change is to allow bosses to initiate bargaining at the same time as unions. Currently, unions get a 20-day window to initiate bargaining first – and they usually do.
Removing this window will mean bosses and unions may try to initiate at the same time, leading to confusion – who initiated first? Do you count when the letter or email was received, or when it was opened? – and then to expensive legal action to try to sort out who gets precedence. You could even get the ridiculous situation of both initiations being “valid”, so the boss and the union are obliged to negotiate two completely separate agreements – one initiated by the employer, one by the union.
This will just make bargaining take longer – which is the complete opposite of what the Employment Relations Act is meant to achieve.
Then there’s the change to remove the duty to conclude – basically, saying you don’t actually have to come to an agreement once bargaining has begun. All this does is let bad employers refuse to do any meaningful bargaining – they can just show up, make unreasonable demands, and refuse to budge – and then after 12 months of this, the collective agreement lapses and all the workers can be forced on to individual contracts.
These changes just give bad employers the green light to do everything they can to undermine the collective bargaining process and threaten workers’ fundamental right to join a union and collectively bargain.
First, they just have to initiate bargaining on the same day as the union and then tie everything up in court with arguments about who initiated first. Once that’s gone on for a while, they can go to the Employment Relations Authority and plead that bargaining isn’t getting anywhere.
If they win, the collective agreement which workers are already on expires.
If that doesn’t work, they just have to stall, or offer unreasonable terms and conditions, for twelve months. It sounds like a long time, but it happens way more than you’d think.
After that, the collective agreement lapses. And once the collective agreement’s gone, employers can bully their workers into taking worse terms and conditions on individual contracts.
This isn’t minor or technical – it’s a fundamental attack on our right to bargain collectively and improve our pay and conditions. It’s important that we call this law for what it is and organise in our workplaces to oppose it.
Join the campaign.