The Employment Relations Amendment Bill will go down as one of this Government’s biggest economic mistakes and a future National-led Government will repeal the provisions, National’s Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Scott Simpson says.
“National opposes both the ideological basis of this Bill and the specific legislative changes contained in it that will destabilise the New Zealand industrial relations landscape. As a result, the Bill reported back to the House includes our dissenting view as a Minority Report.
“The cumulative impact of changes to workplace relations in this Bill will choke economic growth, further hurt business confidence, stifle job opportunities for vulnerable employees, return us to 1970s-style adversarial union activity and be bad for employees and employers.
“It seeks to grow Trade Union membership and influence, and reinforces the political, historic and financial relationships between the Union movement and the NZ Labour Party.
“BusinessNZ says the Bill is ‘harmful and oppressive’ with none of the provisions of most concern removed. With business confidence low, especially among small firms, BusinessNZ says it is unfortunate ‘the Government hasn’t listened or explained its justification for the Bill’.
“These changes are part of a cluster of half-baked Government policies and reviews that have driven up business risk and uncertainty,” National’s Scott Simpson says. “As former National Minister Steven Joyce notes, this Government ‘is currently rearranging, often negatively, not one or two but nearly every aspect of microeconomic policy’.
“A good industrial relations framework and a flexible labour market are critical to a strong and growing economy. This Bill does nothing to achieve that outcome and will have a negative impact on jobs, on costs and the economy.”
The Government is sending a chilling wind into the jobs market by stoking wage expectations and increasing the power of the unions, National’s Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Scott Simpson says.
“Just today we’ve seen slowing data in the ANZ Job Ads series – growth has halved to 5 per cent, year on year, from peaks in recent years of well over 10 per cent. ANZ says there’s a risk of further weakness and if that happens, ‘strength in the labour market could start to ebb.’
“Monthly figures tend to be too volatile to be read in isolation but they follow ANZ’s business confidence survey, which slumped to a 10-year low and saw employment intentions turn negative. Job creation has plummeted by 60 per cent under this Government compared to more than 10,000 new jobs a month under National.
“New Zealanders are right to be concerned that there’s worse to come because the Government is implementing union-friendly, 1970s-style wage bargaining rules that make our businesses less competitive, reduce flexibility and will ultimately hurt workers.
“Employers are also deeply concerned about the flow-on effects of state-sector wage negotiations, especially now that police officers have joined teachers and nurses in rejecting wage increases offered by the Government, sensing they can get more.
“The cumulative impact of this Government’s planned changes to workplace relations risks stalling the economy, further hurting business confidence, and reducing job creation opportunities for vulnerable employees.
“National believes a good industrial relations framework and a flexible labour market are critical to a strong and growing economy.
“This Government has a lot to learn about the law of unintended consequences or worse, is indifferent to the impact of their naïve policies. In the real world, they’re hurting both businesses and ordinary New Zealanders.”
Green Party supporters will be bitterly disappointed at the announcement today of more reviews and no action National’s Environment spokesperson Scott Simpson says.
“The Greens have been forced to swallow a number of dead rats already, and now Labour and NZ First have sent them off to their annual conference with nothing new to announce but reviews and working groups.
“Yesterday the Greens announced that one of the Government’s 140 working groups would consider looking at water bottling – but no real action was taken. Today they’ve said the Ministry for the Environment will have a think about waste disposal.
“We had a plan to expand the waste levy to apply to more landfills so there’s nothing new there. A potential massive increase to the actual levy rate is just another tax which will hurt New Zealand households.
“The National Government announced a scheme last year to deal with end of life tyres, including funding options for their collection and disposal. We also consulted on a National Environment Standard for the outdoor storage of tyres. That was ten months ago and we’ve heard nothing from this Government since.
“I challenge Ms Sage to get on and complete the work that we started, instead of announcing more reviews and talkfests.
“What this weekend has shown is that in spite of all the damage that being part of this Government has done to the Greens credibility and principles, they have no sway, no influence and nothing to show for it.
Environment Minister David Parker’s bull in a china shop approach to resolving freshwater issues in New Zealand is hindering progress on an issue of real importance to all New Zealanders, National’s Environment spokesperson Scott Simpson says.
“Kahui Wai Māori – the Māori Freshwater Forum was established just two weeks ago to resolve issues around Māori rights to fresh water and is now teetering on the verge of collapse after iwi leaders pulled the pin over a lack of consultation.
“To be in this position at such an early stage is a defeat for a Minister who has stated he wants to be judged on his ability to make progress on water issues.
“This is only the start of a long, drawn-out legal battle that could put us back a decade or more in terms of progress on fresh water.
“True to form Mr Parker has arrogantly dismissed the concerns of the iwi leaders. This Government continues to show that it thinks it knows best, that it does not want its ideas challenged, and that it’s quick to insult and denigrate those who disagree with it.
“Water policy remains a confusing mess for parties in Government.
“Before the last election, Labour, NZ First and the Greens claimed that solving water issues in New Zealand was easy.
“Labour campaigned on a royalty on the commercial consumption of water, which would include working with iwi to resolve Treaty water claims. However, as NZ First is opposed to Māori ownership rights that policy was canned when the coalition was formed.
“Meanwhile the Greens are still saying Māori have water rights, but as usual they’re sidelined.
“Winston Peters promised an immediate royalty on bottled water exports if he entered Government – but ten months later the Government’s been told by its own officials that this would breach free trade agreements, though Mr Peters and Mr Parker are also dismissive of that advice.
"National maintains the position that water is not owned by anybody. It’s a public resource and must be managed in the public interest.
“However, we recognise iwi have a particular interest of water within their tribal areas and we amended the RMA last year to ensure iwi have a say in how councils in their region manage freshwater.
“The reason this issue is now going to court is the parties in Government created such high expectations and is now ratting on them.
“National’s approach was considered and moderate meaning we were making progress without ending up in court for nine years. This Government’s managed to end up there in little more than nine months.”
There have now been twice as many people go on strike in the past ten months than in the entire nine years of the previous National-led Government, National’s spokespeople for Workplace Relations and Safety, Scott Simpson and Dan Bidois say.
“We have seen more people strike in the past ten months than in the previous nine years because this Government has lost all credibility at the negotiating table after excessively ramping up union expectations around pay rises for public servants during the election,” Mr Simpson says.
“Yesterday saw almost 30,000 primary teachers strike for the first time since 1994. This means more than 60,000 people have gone on strike across a number of crucial sectors including education, health, retail, manufacturing, transport, and in the public sector.
“And there are more to come. The 60,000 strikes already this year come before the Government’s proposed union-friendly employment law changes are imposed which will make it harder to do business and hire workers.
“National supports higher wages but the way to increase them is through building a strong economy, not tanking it through regressive labour changes and anti-growth policies which sink business confidence and slow the economy.”
Associate Workplace Relations and Safety spokesperson Mr Bidois says New Zealand’s current labour law settings are some of the best and most successful in the world, but the Government’s plan to deliver more rigid union powers will deliver less jobs, lower wages and more strikes.
“The Government has introduced legislation that would significantly strengthen union power and increase compliance costs on businesses. They would make businesses less productive, reducing their confidence to employ new staff, lift wages or invest for growth.
“These reforms are one of the main causes of New Zealand’s plummeting business confidence which is already flowing through to reduced job creation and lower wage growth. The uncertainty the proposed changes are creating is unsurprising when even the Prime Minister is publicly getting the detail of the legislation wrong.
“These changes are bad for business and bad for workers – the only winners are Labour’s union mates.
“National opposes these reforms and urges the Government to go back to the drawing board to avoid further disruptive strike action, rather than turning a blind eye to businesses’ concerns in the name of ideology.”
The news that the nurses have settled is small comfort to the public given that a number of other sectors and industries are experiencing the effects of an uncertain industrial relations climate, National’s spokesperson for Workplace Relations and Safety Scott Simpson says.
“This is just the first chapter in a risky and uncertain industrial relations saga. After an extremely disruptive strike and the threat of further industrial action from 30,000 nurses pay negotiations have been finalised – but the industrial unrest is by no means over.
“Bus drivers, port workers, meat workers, Government staff and teachers are just a few of the industries that are still involved in potential industrial action. That’s more than 50,000 workers who are considering their options to pursue costly strikes.
“This situation is entirely of the Governments own making. The Labour-led Government has billions of dollars to spend but they chose to prioritise fees free and Shane Jones’ slush fund. It also promised much more than it could deliver prior to the election and since it came into office.
“The Government has not only completely lost control of industrial relations in this country but it is further contributing to the mess it has made.
“Ending the starting out wage, removing 90 day trials for businesses with more than 20 staff, legislating consecutive unsustainable leaps in the minimum wage, reducing flexibility and encouraging 70s style standardised wages bargaining will all contribute to an unsettled industrial climate.
“The Government needs to get its act together and ensure that the escalation in industrial action since it came into office does not continue. New Zealanders deserve a Government that prioritises stable industrial relations.”
The Government must be responsible with Kiwi families’ incomes in their approach to waste and must consider their commitment to impose no new taxes when deciding on extending the waste disposal levy, National’s spokesperson for the Environment Scott Simpson says.
“The Government has made a commitment to introduce no new taxes in this term. Any move to increase the waste disposal levy, which they seem to be leaning towards, must be balanced against this promise.
“Excessively increasing the levy, as Minister Sage has spoken about, would increase costs on families and likely lead to more dumping of waste. This would be completely counterproductive to more effectively managing and reducing our waste.
“This Government is already adding thousands of dollars a year in costs to Kiwi households through cancelled tax cuts, higher rents, slower GDP growth and the cost of petrol. Extending and increasing the waste disposal levy would place more cost on Kiwi families who are already seeing increased costs under this Government.
“It must ensure that they are taking the best approach in terms of balancing the interests of the environment, Kiwis’ incomes and the industries who are spearheading the changes.
“The Government’s signalled approach to ban plastic bags is an example of needless virtue signalling. Especially when the industry was already phasing them out.
“Typically most cost effective efficient solutions are industry lead without the need for heavy-handed regulation. That’s why in Government, National worked hard with industry to take an industry-led response to combat the usage of single-use plastic bags.
“We secured an agreement that will see a reduction of 75 per cent of plastic bags used in New Zealand this year. And this was done without imposing new taxes, increasing costs on families or increasing regulation.
“People and businesses must be responsible for their own actions and inactions. Approaches by businesses and communities that promote reducing, reusing, recycling and recovering resources will see an attitude change that will have a more positive, enduring effect.
“National takes a very pragmatic and practical view towards environmental protection and enhancement. We are open to exploring other options in our effort to reduce waste. But we don’t want to see the Government imposing significant costs on Kiwis, especially in light of their promise to bring in no new taxes.”
Businesses are right to be concerned about Government proposals to wind back the clock on industrial relations, strengthening union powers and pitting employers against employees, National’s Workplace Relations spokesperson Scott Simpson says.
“These planned reforms would mean fewer jobs for New Zealanders and less competitive businesses – it is no wonder that businesses are speaking out against it.
“Already we’ve seen more strike action in the first nine months of this Government than in nine years under National, and with the union-friendly reforms the Government is proposing we can be sure there will be more on the way.
“Ending the starting out wage, removing 90 day trials for businesses with more than 20 staff, consecutive unsustainable leaps in the minimum wage, reducing flexibility, and 70s style standardised wages bargaining will all increase risks and costs for small and medium-sized businesses.
“We all benefit when businesses have the confidence to grow, employ more staff and lift wages. This Government’s policies are doing the exact opposite – poor business confidence means employers’ hiring intentions under this Government are the lowest since the Global Financial Crisis.
“We have excellent employment regulations that have seen 10,000 jobs created every month for the last two years. The Government’s changes will put that at risk. They’ll hurt Kiwi families, with unions being the only winner.
“I’m pleased that businesses are taking a stand and encouraging people to speak out against the changes, and I encourage everyone who is interested in a more productive economy that supports both employers and workers to do so.”
The Government’s determination to force workers and industries to collectively bargain wages and conditions will drive down the competitiveness of our employers, while undercutting workers’ rights to tailor employment contracts to suit themselves, National’s Workplace Relations and Safety Spokesperson Scott Simpson says.
“Today’s announcement by Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway sends a chilling messages to employers and exporters that competition will be sacrificed in order to advantage unions,” Mr Simpson says.
“The Government fails to explain why these changes are needed. In an environment of record job growth, they make no sense for the New Zealand economy, employers, or the 82 per cent of workers who do not belong to a union.
“This appears to be a simple payoff for Labour’s union supporters at the expense of everyone else.
“The Government is already driving employment law changes through Parliament that will restrict the choice and flexibility workers have, make it harder for businesses to innovate to boost productivity, and give unions rights they haven’t had before.
“Adding forced industry-wide collective bargaining on top of all this will add costs to businesses and take choices away from workers.
“It is impossible to simply legislate for higher wages. The global economy is more complicated than that.
“What works is a confident economy that exports its products to the world and can afford to pay workers more. In the last 12 months New Zealand’s terms of trade have been at a record high and the full-time average wage has increased 3.8 per cent.
“This is what a successful economic plan looks like.
“Labour’s determination to return to 1970s-style union-dominated collective bargaining will hurt workers at the very time when Government policies are already increasing the costs of living and making it harder for Kiwi families to get ahead.”
Environment Minister David Parker needs to learn from James Shaw’s recent charm offensive to farmers and stop beating up on them, National’s Environment Spokesperson Scott Simpson says.
“David Parker’s extraordinary announcement that the Coalition Government plans to cap cattle herds in a bid to stem nutrient run-off has done nothing but further cement his reputation has a hard-line idealist who shoots from the hip and enjoys nothing more than beating up on farmers,” Mr Simpson says.
“This approach - which he began with farmers in Ashburton during the election campaign - does nothing to encourage environmental achievement or speed up freshwater quality improvements. All it does is fan the flames of a rural-urban divide.
“James Shaw, on the other hand, has acknowledging the enormous progress already made by our farmers in their environmental stewardship.
“Dairy farmers have spent $1 billion in five years on the likes of fencing and planting around waterways, culverts, bridges and other infrastructure to contain nutrient run-off.
“Could it be that Mr Shaw is becoming a practical environmentalist focused on striking the right balance between strong economic growth and responsible management of our precious environment?
“Where Mr Parker has failed so badly is in not recognising the improvements occurring because of strict regulations set by National, and administered by Regional Councils.
“The recent Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) report shows for all river water quality parameters measured over a ten year period, more waterways are improving than deteriorating.
“This is tangible proof of the progress being made and the hard work of farmers, councils and communities.
“When we came to office there were no National Policy Statements or National Environmental Standards on water quality. We invested a record $400 million in improving water quality and our regulatory framework under the Resource Management Act was on track to meet New Zealander’s aspirations for clean freshwater within a generation.
“It will be a retrograde step for water quality reform if the Government attempts to overregulate an industry that is already working towards improving water quality.
“My message to David Parker is to change his tune, and quickly. Perhaps James Shaw might be able to offer some pointers,” Mr Simpson says.