A winning formula for workers and wages

New Zealand workers aren't paid enough and the way we set wages isn’t working for many Kiwis, says Labour’s Spokesperson on Labour Issues Darien Fenton.

“New Zealand used to pride itself on its egalitarian workforce, where people were paid a fair wage for a fair day’s work.

“That is no longer the case. Labour wants to change that and believes the introduction of an industry-specific ‘floor’ or ‘floors’ for wages would go a long way to improving the lives of a great many Kiwis.

“That means amending the Employment Relations Act 2000 and drawing up a new framework where better pay and standards can be extended through ‘Industry Standard Agreements’,” Darien Fenton said.
“An Industry Standard Agreement would build on existing individual, collective and multi-employer collective agreements that the Act currently provides for.

“An industry union or employer could apply to a new Workplace Commission – set up under the ERA - for an Industry Standard Agreement. The Commission would determine the ‘norm’ of the standards already applying in collective agreements in a particular industry and extend those to all workplaces in the industry where there is no collective agreement.

“Flexibility is important in enabling small businesses to adapt to new standards.
“The Workplace Commission would be able to take the potential impact on small businesses and employment into account during its deliberations.

“Employers and unions will still be able to negotiate collective agreements as an alternative to the Industry Standard Agreement. Individual Agreements can still apply, but cannot be less than the Industry Standard,” Darien Fenton said.

“This is not about a return to central wage fixing, or compulsory unionism. It’s about raising the wages of New Zealanders.

“Workers will not have to join a union to be part of an Industry Standard Agreement, but unions will have access to workers in the industry to talk about the Standards, as they do now.

“The model is widely used in successful economies, including Australia which has a far more rigid system than the one Labour is proposing.

“The adaptations we plan will continue to enable unions and employers to bargain directly with each other when that is the most effective approach.

“Industry Standard Agreements are about improving the pay of New Zealand workers. They will help ensure that every Kiwi worker receives a decent living wage,” Darien Fenton said.

“Another important focus of Labour’s Work and Wages policy is around non-standard work, where large numbers of contractors, casual and temporary workers effectively have no rights.

“To ensure workers are protected in these situations Labour will:
  • Ensure that workers employed in precarious forms of employment  are given similar rights to those in more traditional forms of employment
  • Investigate and implement best practice statutory support and legal rights, including minimum wage protection, for dependent contractors
  • Repeal the National Government’s changes to the Employment Relations Act in regard to workers in the film and video production sector
  • Extend the right to organise and  collectively bargain to contractors who are primarily selling their labour
“The policy also provides for workers affected by outsourcing and redundancy by:
  • Providing for the right to strike when a collective agreement is in force where the employer makes a significant proposal for restructuring or outsourcing that in effect renders the collective agreement ineffective
  • Implementing the recommendations of the 2008 Ministerial Advisory Group report on redundancy and restructuring.
“Labour also intends to strengthen current collective bargaining arrangements under the ERA to ensure the guaranteed international rights to collective bargaining can be achieved by a greater number of workers.
“Urgent changes are needed. New Zealand wage and salary workers are struggling to make ends meet and thousands are leaving for Australia for better wages.
“Labour has studied other jurisdictions and thoroughly thought this policy through. We believe this is the best formula for growing Kiwi wages,” Darien Fenton said.

Labour’s Health and Safety policy will be released separately.

Acknowledgements: Darien Fenton, NZ Labour Party