Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Labour's work and wages policy

Labour released their work and wages policy today. A lot of the policy [PDF] is the stuff you'd expect: repeal of the 90-day law, immediately raising the minimum wage to $15/hour, and Mondayized public holidays - all stuff they've been talking about for the last three years. They're also promising to implement the recommendations of the 2008 Ministerial Advisory Group report on redundancy and restructuring, which recommended a statutory right to redundancy, and to give us better pay equity legislation. But the core of the policy, and the aspect which is likely to be most controversial, is for a return to award bargaining.

They don't call it that, of course; instead its "Industry Standard Agreements". But its the same thing: minimum contractual conditions, applying across an entire industry, set centrally by negotiation between unions and peak employer groups, backed by a quasi-judicial Workplace Commission. Individual contracts in a covered industry could of course exceed the minimum standards, but could not be below them (collective contracts, OTOH, apparently will be able to). The actual terms would be based on the clauses of existing collective contracts, unless that was short-circuited by negotiation. No-one would have to join a union, and it would effectively legitimise the current practice of passing on union-negotiated pay and conditions to non-union staff.

The framework is based heavily on that used in Australia. It seems to work there, and the fact that they have these industry-wide agreements and we don't is one of the reasons for the wage-gap between our two countries.

National will no doubt try and attack this as a blast from the past. I think its better seen as a return to normality. This sort of collective bargaining is common in the rest of the world. Its the norm over the Tasman. We are the outliers here, and the highly ideological framework we use has given us poverty wages and no security. If we want ordinary kiwis to be better off, then we need to change that. This seems to be a good stab at doing so.