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Removing Employee Protection Is Big Step Backwards For NZ, Academic Warns

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Removing Employee Protection Is Big Step Backwards For NZ, Academic Warns

An employment relations Professor says proposed changes to employment relations legislation will support inefficient and disorganised employers.

Professor Erling Rasmussen, editor of a new book 'Employment Relationships: Workers, Unions and Employers in New Zealand' being launched at AUT tomorrow, says New Zealand is heading in the wrong direction by letting employee protection slip out the back door.

"Law changes will mean employers that don't have suitable HR systems in place won't need to change their practices and are in fact supported by legislation," he says. "This is a big step backwards in protection of employees."

Proposed changes include new workers no longer being able to file a personal grievance claim following dismissal (by extending the 90-day trial period to all new employees), the possibility of requiring a medical certificate for one day of sick leave, and changing process requirements at the Employment Relations Authority.

Professor Rasmussen says New Zealand is moving towards a US style of HR practice with an at-will employment approach where employers can get rid of a new employee for any reason and he warns this will be damaging for the country. "Asking employees to get medical certificates for taking a sick day, for example, is hugely inefficient," adds the Professor, "and employers already have the possibility of dealing with employees abusing sick leave entitlements."

The proposed new legislation puts pressure on New Zealand which is once again facing issues of brain drain and youth dropping out of the workforce altogether, he says.

"We're currently in the situation where once again people are moving to Australia and overseas," says Professor Rasmussen. "Alongside this, around 17% of our young people are unemployed with some being shut out of the workforce permanently.

"If we're not careful, our brightest workforce will disappear and we'll create a low-skilled, casualised workforce, and that's recipe for economic disaster." The Employment Relations Act Professor Erling Rasmussen adds that ten years on the Employment Relations Act 2000, which was aimed at driving better productivity and flexibility, hasn't worked as intended.

"Unfortunately, we now have the situation where the government is avoiding a debate about how the workplace can contribute to solving the country's productivity issues and instead it relies on traditional cost-cutting and flexibility measures," he says.

"Rather, its focus is on tax cuts, extracting resources, making the public sector more efficient and restricting growth in areas like tertiary education.

"Furthermore," says the Professor, "public policy changes appear driven by anecdotes and hearsay, rather than solid research and statistical information."

Professor Rasmussen says the announced changes will reduce employee protection adding that it won't mean they will become more efficient or productive.

"This practice is not balanced or sustainable," he cautions. "We're not building a high waged, highly skilled, highly productive economy."

'Employment Relations in New Zealand' brings together the views of employers, unions and academics. High profile contributors include former speaker of the house, Professor of Law and Public Policy, Margaret Wilson, former government minister Laila Harr, employment lawyer Andrew Caisley and employer and union representatives.

It looks at the major issues from the perspectives of all the major players: public policy, collective bargaining, employee representation, labour market adjustments, productivity, changes in employment law and trends in employment institutions.

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