Workplace Relations legislation is important. The details can bypass the ordinary citizen, but changes reverberate.

Here’s an example. A new company has taken over the Grey District Council’s rubbish collection, recycling and landfill operation contract. The previous contractor was an Aussie cowboy outfit looking to get a toehold in New Zealand and in order to do so, tendered too low. Council thought they were getting a bargain, but there were endless problems: equipment breakdowns, staff not paid on time, not meeting outcomes…the parent company went broke and the NZ offshoot was obviously heading the same way. The Council found an Auckland-based company to take over the contract, but something had to be squeezed to make it viable. Labour costs were the only available option. Here’s how workplace legislation brought in my National enabled that to happen.

The previous Labour Government had brought in legislation that forced a new contractor in low paid sectors of the economy to take on existing staff at the same rates of pay and on the same conditions. This stopped the precarious, low paid and vulnerable cleaners, catering staff and the like from being endlessly squeezed by the contracting out process. (Boss: ‘Sorry, Teuila, I can’t pay more than the minimum wage because if I do I won’t win the contract and then everyone will lose their jobs. You understand?’) National changed that legislation. If there were 19 or less staff involved the law no longer applied.

So, the new contractor in Greymouth sacked all the existing staff and asked them to reapply for their positions – and to take a wage cut. If they were re-employed they were covered by the 90 day legislation that National also brought in, which enables the employer to dismiss an employee within the first 90 days – without giving a reason. Because of the previous issues, some of the employers had joined a union and even held a picket. The new contractor is anti union and gave these employees the sack.  He could do so because of the 90 day law. There won’t be any collective bargaining taking place on this work site, and collective bargaining is the proven way to get better wages and conditions.

Mission accomplished: labour costs down, potential troublemakers expelled, workforce bargaining power weakened. No wonder we have a society of growing inequality.

And the Council? Well, this is not a governance matter, this is management. The councillors, who are elected and could have pressure brought to bear, have no role to play. The mayor tried to intervene and was told to shut up. The Council staff belong to an in-house or ‘yellow union’, negotiating with the CEO, who is of South African origin. So much for good old West Coast working class heritage: ‘We don’t take any shit down here.’ Pull the other one, mate.

Members of the NZ Taxpayers Union are laughing all the way to their gated village.