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When is voluntary not voluntary?

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On June 9 it will be 15 years since the fifth New Zealand Labour Government ratified Convention 98 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

Convention 98 is significant because it defines an internationally agreed set of standards on the right to organise and manage collective bargaining. Article 4 of the Convention specifically states that negotiation between employers and workers’ organisation for collective agreements should be voluntary.

EMA Employment Relations and Safety Manager, Paul Jarvie, says the current changes proposed to New Zealand’s employment legislation are contrary to this ILO Convention.

The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) has stated that:

"The voluntary negotiation of collective agreements and therefore the autonomy of bargaining partners is a fundamental aspect of the principle of freedom of association. Collective bargaining, if it is to be effective must assume a voluntary character and entail recourse to measures of compulsion which would alter the voluntary nature of such bargaining. Legislation which lays down mandatory conciliation and prevents the employer from withdrawing, irrespective of circumstances, at the risk of being penalised by payment of wages in respect of strike days, in addition to being disproportionate, runs counter to the principle of voluntary negotiation enshrined in Convention No 98."

Proposed changes in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill include compulsion to conclude collective agreements and prohibits an employer from opting out of a Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA).

"The concept of Good Faith underpins our entire employment framework. It binds all parties equally and has been successfully used for many years," says Mr Jarvie.

"The introduction of compulsion to conclude negates these provisions and closing deals because you must is neither good practice nor good business.

"We want a modern workplace and that needs legislation which reflects modern thinking and the future nature of work. The proposed industrial legislation does not. Rather, it seeks to add compulsion and put a straitjacket over employment relations," says Mr Jarvie.

  • Source: A EMA release