We have recently drafted a submission on the National Party’s proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act and health and safety laws. We made many submissions; however, one aspect of the proposals is particularly worrisome and, if the Bills are enacted, will undermine the gains hoping to be made in New Zealand’s previously abysmal workplace health and safety laws and track record.
The attacks the Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2013 seeks to make on collective bargaining will exacerbate and prolong the difficulties that have beset workplace health & safety in NZ since the 90s. One of the most fundamental weaknesses identified by the Health and Safety Taskforce was the lack of worker participation – and particularly collective worker participation – in workplace health and safety.
The policy which underlies these parts of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill is mutually exclusive with the type of change recommended by the Health and Safety Taskforce. The changes proposed in this Bill undermine the ability of workers (through their respective Unions) to effectively participate in the setting/promulgation of rules, systems and standards which define and govern their working lives. This includes rules, systems, and standards concerning workplace health and safety.
This problematic (and presumably ideological) policy can also be seen in the changes proposed by the Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill, which establishes WorkSafe New Zealand (a new Crown Entity responsible for workplace health and safety). Despite the specific, plainly worded and repeated recommendations of the Taskforce, the proposed changes to health and safety law would not require:
(a) That the board of WorkSafe NZ be selected on the basis of tripartism; or
(b) That any advisory group created by WorkSafe NZ be constituted on a tripartite basis.
In light of the changes proposed to both the employment and health & safety laws, it would seem that the Government is intent on failing to give effect to the Taskforce’s recommendations. The specific changes proposed by this Bill will, if enacted, make the kind of worker participation championed by the Taskforce all the more difficult to realise.