Lifting the veil on National’s IR policy

National may be acting coy over their policies, but they’ve said enough in recent times that we can predict the basic shape of their industrial relations policy.

In broad terms, I don’t expect radical change. For sure they’re under intense pressure from their corporate paymasters to change things in the bosses’ favour, but there are two good reasons why they won’t go the whole way and re-enact the ECA (even under the guise of amending the current Employment Relations Act, which was the ruse they had planned in 2002 and 2005).

First, they appear finally to have learnt the lesson that NZers don’t want radical neo-liberal reform. The then IR spokesman, Wayne Mapp, was at pains to assure a conference of IR academics at the beginning of last year that this was the case. Since then they have the sobering example of Howard’s defeat, in which the notorious “Workchoices” law played a major part. (Not to mention ACT’s polling.)

Secondly, they don’t need to make major changes in favour of the bosses. The ERA wasn’t a return to compulsory unionism, union monopolies, and extension of awards across industries and occupations. You only have to look at the union membership figures — hovering around 21-22% these last 8 years — and the lack of large pay increases in the face of record low unemployment to see that the ERA hasn’t made a big difference.

So, what will the Nats offer their major sponsors in return for their support?
Easy. For some time the employers’ biggest gripe has been the personal grievance law. Ironically, it was the ECA that extended this protection against dismissal, discrimination and arbitrary action to all the workforce; previously unions had acted to regulate against abuse of these rights.

Expect Wayne Mapp’s proposed 90-day probation period to feature in the initial amendment bill. It may be fine tuned to offer some further protections against abuse, as is the case in Britain, where there is a similar probation period (and some employers regularly sack their staff just before the probation period is up, avoiding the employment of staff with rights to challenge dismissals).

Also, expect the 2004 amendments to be repealed. The Nats made this clear at the time, and they do have to offer up something to keep their backers content. The same probably goes for any amendments that may be passed this year to further protect low paid casual, temp and contract workers. Which would be sad, because these are the evry workers who most need some support in hard times.

But repealing the 2004 “passing on” provisions wouldn’t make a great deal of difference. They include so many obstacles before free-riders pay agency fees that they have only been implemented in a handful of workplaces.

The provisions protecting low paid workers in the event that their work is sold to a third party are another matter. Again, these are the most vulnerable workers and these protections make a great deal of difference to them. But what do the Nats care — it’s not as though these people are ever likely to vote National in large numbers.

Any other changes are likely to be peripheral. The worst predictions of the right when the ERA was introduced never came to pass — remember Prebble’s dire warning of jack-booted unionists marching through workplaces up and down the country. Even the dreaded Good Faith provisions have made little difference in practice.

Why change something when you don’t need to and you run the risk of bringing your real interests into sharper focus? I’m picking relatively little change in industrial relations.

Update: Surprisingly moderate opposition from the chief business lobbyist. “The proposal was no doubt motivated by good intentions, but was out of step with how the commercial world operated.” Perhaps there’s room for negotiation.


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4 Responses to “Lifting the veil on National’s IR policy”

  1. SCOOP: ELECTION 08 » Blog Archive » What A National Government May Entail - Part Two Says:

    […] Jafapete blog posted a solid summary last Monday of the likely National policy on industrial relations. Clearly, the government’s mooted ERA […]

  2. National’s sack race « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] National’s sack race National’s policy to let small businesses sack their staff on a whim will come as no great surprise to readers of this blog. […]

  3. National’s IR policy is bollocks « Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] National’s IR policy is bollocks National have released their full industrial relations policy. There’s nothing much there of surprise to readers to my earlier post. […]

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