The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) is launching a major campaign today opposing the Government's "massive" employment law changes, which it says will see workers' pay packets cut and tea breaks lost.
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill, introduced following the lengthy Ports of Auckland dispute, will allow employers to ask the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) to let them off the hook in disputes that have reached a stalemate, and opt out of multi-employer collective agreements. It will also remove a rule that currently means new employees are automatically covered by a workplace's collective agreement for 30 days, require the ERA to give an immediate oral decision or indication at the end of a hearing to speed up proceedings, and introduce more flexibility around meal breaks.
CTU President Helen Kelly says the changes are a breach of New Zealand's international trade agreements, and it will be laying a complaint with the International Labour Organisation.
"What the Government's planning to do is introduce legislation which will allow a worker's pay to be cut by basically removing a whole lot of fundamental bargaining rights," she said on Firstline this morning, "which determine workers' pay increases, whether they have a tea break or a lunch break, and a whole range of things which will have a dramatic effect on collective bargaining in this country."
Ms Kelly says the changes will drive down wages at a time when many people are already struggling to get by.
"It's unfair, it's a terrible time for working people in this country," she says. "Many are not even making a living now, but reducing their wages like this is totally unnecessary and unfair."
At this afternoon's launch of the Fairness at Work campaign, Ms Kelly will announce rallies, stop work meetings and a national day of action.
"We want to educate the public about what is going on and bring their attention to the Government's policies on workers, which are not worker-friendly.
"We're going to lead this campaign to the next election, so it's not a short-term campaign."
Ms Kelly says the changes are so punitive, they will even remove some workers' rights to a meal break.
"We're having tea breaks with workers to remind them this might be the last one they have."
National's Jami-Lee Ross, the MP behind the bill, said on TV3's The Nation on Saturday that if strikes are allowed to go on indefinitely, they have a "big impact" on the economy.