New Zealand’s Equal Opportunities Commissioner says she supports the Government’s proposed Fair Pay Agreements Bill in principle, but gaps remain that she wants addressing.
Thursday is the final day for submissions about the proposed bill, which would create a system for collective bargaining that sets minimum employment standards across a sector.
This would cover issues around wages and working hours and unions would be able to trigger a fair pay agreement (FPA) negotiation if they meet one of the three criteria.
These are if they get either the support of 1000 workers or 10% of a workforce who would be covered by the agreement, whichever is lower, or meet a public interest test.
The commissioner, Saunoamaali’i Karanina Sumeo told Breakfast that, fundamentally, the bill will give a voice to the many Kiwis who aren’t part of unions and don’t necessarily know their rights as workers.
That includes people she’s hearing from who are working up to 70 hours a week, or are willing to work night shifts for an extra $10 pay because they need the money.
“It’s really about giving some more power to our most marginalised – our young people, Māori and Pacific workers, and our workers with disabilities.”
“We really need fair pay agreements to set some baseline expectations.”
She understands the system will work on a basis of “good faith bargaining”, whereby representatives for workers and unions get together and work things out, with recourse to the Employment Relations Authority available if needed.
However, Karanina Sumeo believes the bill isn’t perfect and wants the Government to address things like support for contractors and making skills and training a more concrete part of the legislation.
“There’s certainly gaps in the legislation,” she says.
Meanwhile, BusinessNZ, which is an advocacy network, strongly disagrees with the idea that fair pay agreements are the best way to help improve the lives of workers in New Zealand.
Instead, it wants the Government to focus on supporting “vulnerable” sectors and to improve the labour inspectorate in order to make sure pay conditions are being respected by employers.
BusinessNZ also believes the bill will breach an International Labour Organization (ILO) convention around collective bargaining.
The ILO has put the proposed bill, which is currently before a select committee, on its list of alleged breaches but this may or may not be heard later this year.
BusinessNZ Chief Executive, Kirk Hope, says FPA’s sound great but they are actually “compulsory national pay schemes”, in which employers and employees will be compelled to bargain.
“If you have 90% of people who don’t agree, who have a good relationship, they are bought into the bargaining scheme under fair pay agreements.”
Hope says that neither employers nor employees are necessarily going to know who their bargaining agents are and so people’s voices may not be heard anymore than they currently are.
BusinessNZ has this week been criticised by the Workplace Relations and Safety Minister, Michael Wood for spreading what he believes is “misinformation” around FPA’s, something Hope denies.
“We don’t support poor employers,” he told Breakfast.
“We just think that fair pay agreements are going to do the things that people expect of them.”