Employers and Manufacturers Association

  • Max Bradford

Ridges Hotel, Rotorua

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you about industrial relations issues... I think it is timely to talk about the Holidays Act which has been in the news a lot lately.

Industrial Relations Progress

Before I do however, let me touch on some of the other initiatives underway in the industrial relations area, as well as the campaign which is underway by the Trade Unions and the Opposition.

You are probably aware that the Government has a number of reviews underway at the moment - looking at bargaining, personal grievances, the minimum wage and the Holidays Act... all part of our commitment to a fair, flexible and neutral industrial relations environment.

We are examining Employment Court decisions to see whether they demonstrate any problems with the laws relating to access of bargaining agents to workplaces or the rights and obligations for dismissals.

I think one lesson we as legislators could learn from this is the need to ensure that legislation is drafted in such a way that there are no grounds for ambiguity.

Are the laws clear? Or do they beg ongoing legal challenge and judicial activism? And are the Court decisions consistent with the original spirit of the ECA - fairness, flexibility and neutrality. Do they provide certainty for employees and employers alike?

Those are questions we are duty-bound to address if our industrial relations legislation is to enhance the competitiveness of our businesses in an increasingly tough global economy.

The Anti Campaign

You are probably also aware that the trade unions and the Opposition have launched a campaign to sabotage and discredit moves by the Government to introduce more flexibility into our industrial relations legislation.

With a series of half truths and misrepresentation, the moves by the Opposition and the unions are transparently designed to create unreasoning panic.

One blatant example was a recent claim by both Pete Hodgson and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, that the Government would not consult the public about changes to industrial relations legislation.

As both the Labour Party and the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union are fully aware, public consultation is an integral part of any legislative change under our democratic system. Even if we wanted to - which we don't - we can't change that.

Their irresponsible statements are designed to mislead people.

The fact is that all the initiatives require thorough investigation of issues and options. That process should be able to happen without the prejudice of ill-founded speculation so that we can get sound, reasoned options to place before the public during the select committee process that precedes any legislative change.

The Holidays Act

As you know, we are in the midst of a period of public consultation on the future direction of the Holidays Act.

The Holidays Act Review is not about taking away workers rights. The Trade Unions - who rely on a pack fear mentality - would love you to believe that but it isn't true.

We should also recall that the union movement bitterly opposed Saturday shopping, but who would give that away now? Regrettably they are using the same tactics now, rather than letting a reasoned debate take place.

The Holidays Act review is about updating laws that are 50 years old and about freedom of choice.

I want you to think back half a century - if you are old enough:

The Second World War had just finished. Most women did not go on to higher education; most did not pursue a career. Our pubs closed at six o'clock and shops did not open in the weekends. Food was rationed and you needed to collect petrol stamps for weeks to travel any distance. Some schools still punished children for speaking Maori or writing with their left hands. TV was virtually unheard of. Many families did not have a car. De facto relationships and unmarried mothers were scandalous and shameful. Pay was handed out in envelopes, bank records were kept in ledgers. A 40 hour, Monday to Friday, working week was standard.

And our holidays legislation was introduced.

I have trouble thinking of a single piece of public life which is exactly the same as it was in the 1940's.

We live in a freer, faster moving, more flexible world. Work patterns are different. Living is different. Our society has undergone radical change, but our holiday laws have not.

The Holidays Act is half a century out of date. It is prescriptive and restrictive in a world where flexibility and choice are bywords of our lifestyle.

For example, there is the "tenths" rule which states that while most employees are paid at the full rate for public holidays, factory workers are paid on the basis of one-tenth pay for each ordinary working day in the fortnight preceding the public holiday.

Why? I don't know. I'm sure there was a reason in the 1940's but it has been lost in the mists of another time.

The Holidays Act fits badly with our modern working environment. Rigid rules which produced certain outcomes in the 1940s no longer give the same results or certainty today. The result is controversy and frustration for many parties in recent years.

It is time to think about the big picture, and ask employees and employers about the general direction holidays legislation should take.

We could easily adapt that advertisement which Clear is running at the moment...

I can choose any sort of food from any where in the world at my local supermarket, I can negotiate flexible hours and work conditions to suit me and my life, I can go out to eat or drink at any time of day or night... so how come I am forced to take time off work when I really want the extra money. How I come I can't choose? How come?

Should the Government dictate people's lives to such a degree, that they must take time off when they would rather exchange some of their holidays for cash?

I think not.

If a young couple is saving hard for a deposit on their first house, they should be free to take a week's annual leave as pay instead of holiday, if they so desire.

A study by Massey University showed 30 per cent of workers surveyed would like to be able to work longer hours and earn more money.

That is a significant proportion of people. They, like those who would rather have a holiday, should have the freedom to choose.

That is what the options under discussion are all about - giving people the freedom to choose what suits them - and not taking away their rights.

The Holidays Act review will not - as the Unions and the Labour Party would have people believe - take away present entitlements to holidays, but rather ensure the rights of employees to enjoy holidays in the way they choose.

Choice. Not confiscation.

The main issue which must be considered was the degree to which holidays entitlements are flexible and able to be negotiated by employees and employers, while still ensuring all employees receive minimum entitlements.

Holidays legislation needs to be:

clear - straight forward and easy to understand
universal - applying equally to all employees
simple - the entitlements must be easy to use without extensive negotiation
flexible - so that the time and amount of leave can be arranged easily to suit individual workers and workplaces
fair - so that workers receive an entitlement to time off without being pressured in any way
neutral- so that employees right are balanced against their employer to avoid favouring one party or one outcome over another (which also involves a balance between fairness and flexibility).
The holidays consultation document presents options for addressing the issues of flexibility and negotiability.

It asks employees and employers to provide feedback on the suitability of these, or other options they may wish to suggest.

The four options range from what is essentially the status quo... (three weeks annual holidays which cannot be traded, 11 public holidays which may be exchanged for days in lieu but not for cash, and five days special leave which can not be traded for cash) ... to the option of trading a week's annual leave and all statutory leave for cash, leaving the rest untradeable.

I believe it is a positive, moderate and sensible move which fits with our flexible New Zealand lifestyle and work environment.

It's about free choice.

As people closely involved with this issue, I welcome your feedback.