27 Nov 2023

Businesses want change from new government, but workers could pay

10:19 am on 27 November 2023
Head of CTU and head of Business NZ

Richard Wagstaff, left, and Kirk Hope. Photo: Supplied

Business leaders want to see quick changes from the new government, including scrapping fair pay agreements and allowing 90 day staff trials.

Business NZ chief executive Kirk Hope said some fair pay agreements had not been put into place and should be ditched.

"They're probably not going to help workers in any meaningful way," Hope said.

"Why would you put that sort of rigidity in the labour market, when New Zealand needs to nimble and competitive - more so than ever before."

However, Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said it would be a "backward step" to remove the work standards included in the fair pay agreements.

"New Zealand is an easy place to do business, but it's so easy that we have workers being really undermined and not paid properly.

"These fair pay agreements, that was about providing a minimum for the sorts of essential workers we all depend on - bus drivers, cleaners, supermarket workers - and making life harder for those people is not the answer to the challenges that we face," Wagstaff said.

While those workers receive the minimum wage, the fair pay agreements included improvements to health and safety, hours of work and minimum staffing levels, Wagstaff said.

Hope said 90 day trials for employees in businesses with more than 20 staff had not led to significant exploitation of workers and helped businesses hire more staff.

"Even if unemployment rises to 5.5 percent, as it's anticipated doing, that's still an incredibly tight labour market," Hope said.

"These 90 day trials enable businesses to take a risk with people who might not necessarily have the skills and give them a shot. And if they can't, the business doesn't have to go through an extremely expensive process."

However, Wagstaff said 90 day trials increased insecurity for new workers, without making any difference to the unemployment rate.

Hope supported the new government's plans to give the Reserve Bank a sole focus on inflation, but Wagstaff was scathing about the move.

"Where do people fit into the priorities? It would seem cash in the economy is a higher priority than people," he said.

"We think a balanced mandate, having both social and economic imperatives was very helpful. The Reserve Bank did work with those two mandates well.

"Putting profit ahead of people is not the way to go when they're running the Reserve Bank."

The new government did not seem to care about making people unemployed, which was "disappointing", Wagstaff said.

"This government is excited about putting tens of thousands of public servants on the dole queue.

"And they want to change the Reserve Bank Act to make unemployment a lesser issue - for them it's not an issue.

"It reveals a lot about the character of the new government to do these kinds of things," he said.

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