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Workers should worry about new threat to workplace protections in Minister’s speech

In her speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce last night, Brooke van Velden appeared to endorse proposals that would strip workers of essential basic workplace protections

Minister Brooke van Velden’s speech to the Auckland Chamber of Commerce last night is another alarming sign of the Government’s low regard for workers’ basic rights.

“The Minister appeared to endorse proposals that would strip workers of essential basic workplace protections,” said Acting CTU President Rachel Mackintosh.

“The union movement wishes to speak urgently with the Minister about these remarks which follows the indecent haste to scrap Fair Pay Agreements and reinstate 90-day trials.

 “It is particularly concerning to hear that the Minister wants to review health and safety law. New Zealand has an appalling health and safety record, with approximately 17 workers killed as a consequence of their work every week. Every 15 minutes a worker suffers an injury that requires more than a week away from work. The lessons from Pike River tell us that we need stronger health and safety law, not lighter touch regulation. Nobody gains from that.

 “The Minister also highlighted contractors as an area where ‘certainty’ was needed. Right now, workers can go to court to show that they are employees – which is what Uber workers did. The Minister and the National/ACT coalition agreement appears to want to take away that right. This would strip essential protections such as leave, sickness, ACC, and more from thousands of the most vulnerable workers.

 “We’re also appalled to hear the Minister complaining about the advances that have been made for workers in recent years. Increasing the minimum wage occurred while we had record-low unemployment. Sick leave entitlement increased to match Australia. Paid Parental Leave increased to 26 weeks. These are all good things for workers, and their families. They should be celebrated, not used as reasons for complaint.

 “The Minister set out a vision for the economy built on flexibility – the same language was used in the early 1990s by Jim Bolger and Ruth Richardson to strip workers of so many protections.

“If she has her way, this flexibility will come from working people losing their rights, their health, and their terms and conditions of employment. This isn’t a vision for a better economy, it’s a prescription for the kind of low wage, low productivity economy we should be leaving behind. The Minister has recently refused to engage with workers representatives, we would urge her to reconsider.” “We will be outlining our concerns to the Minister, and requesting a discussion on her policy agenda  and how it will impact working people.”