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CTU pressures govt for Fair Pay Agreements

Tuesday 15th October 2019

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The trade union movement will pile pressure on the government today to make progress on its proposals to introduce Fair Pay Agreements legislation, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will say only that the government will make announcements on its intentions "shortly".

That could be as early as tomorrow, when Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is due to address the Council of Trade Unions annual conference in Wellington, following addresses today by CTU president Richard Wagstaff, Ardern, and deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, whose New Zealand First party has been skeptical about FPAs.

FPAs are a flagship policy for Labour, which receives substantial campaign support from the trade union movement, despite the fact that union membership has dwindled to well below a fifth of the workforce in the almost 30 years since the abolition of compulsory unionism by the Bolger government of the early 1990s.

A working group report chaired by former National Party Prime Minister Jim Bolger early last year recommended in favour of FPAs, saying the labour market pendulum had swung too far in employers' favour. But the Labour-led government has been cautious to pursue its recommendations because of employer opposition. It has given no indication to date of whether FPA legislation will occur before next year's general election.

"Working people expect the government to follow through and stick to the plan laid out in the recommendations of the working group," the CTU says in a paper released this morning setting out six core features that it says should be part of any FPA system.

The proposed new industrial relations framework would pave the way for industry and sector-wide bargaining between national unions and national employer representatives where either more than 1,000 workers or 10 percent of an industry's workforce, whichever is the lesser, could decide to pursue a nationally binding collective employment contract.

The CTU says the thresholds for triggering a new FPA should not be any higher than that and warns against "setting barriers that would risk tying up the process in expensive and time-wasting disputes before the parties even get to the bargaining table" - an apparent reference to concerns among employers that the definition of nationwide industries or sectors will prove problematic in many cases.

The CTU has previously signalled supermarket workers, security guards and cleaners as the first groups of workers it would target nationally for FPAs. 

FPAs would disallow private contractors and individually bargained contracts would be disallowed in an industry or sector where an FPA agreement was negotiated. National Party MPs have claimed this is a return to compulsory unionism by stealth although, in theory, workers could negotiate individual contracts on better terms after an FPA was settled.

"Fair Pay Agreements need to apply to everyone ... in an industry or sector so ... no cowboy employers undercut the competition with cheap labour," the CTU says, tying FPAs to the Labour-led government's wellbeing strategy.

"A decent pay rate only delivers wellbeing if it is matched with safe and secure hours of work, training, career progression, flexible workplaces, superannuation, redundancy provisions, overtime and leave agreements."

Whatever the future, these should be the standard working minimums in an industry or sector, it said. 

In the event of a bargaining failure, "the parties need access to a binding independent resolution process", the CTU says. "Where a majority of workers and a majority of their employers settle an agreement, or a settlement is reached through an arbitration, it should be final."

"It must not be subject to any further tests or administrative hurdles."

Asked at her weekly post-Cabinet press conference yesterday whether there would be FPA legislation before the 2020 election, Ardern said the government did "want to continue to make progress and ministers will be making further announcements on that shortly."



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