28 Oct 2014

Workers' rights still protected - EMA

11:42 am on 28 October 2014

Changes to labour laws expected to have their final reading in Parliament later this week will not erode workers' rights and are more about tidying up the system, an employers group says.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill makes sweeping changes to collective agreements, strike action, and staff breaks. It also keeps in place the controversial 90-day trial period for new employees.

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Photo: 123RF

Employers will be able to opt out of multi-employer bargaining, and a requirement is removed for new staff to be employed under the collective for the first 30 days.

Helen Kelly.

Helen Kelly. Photo: Supplied

The changes allow more flexibility over rest and meal break provisions which unions argue could spell the end of tea or lunch breaks.

Council of Trade Unions (CTU) president Helen Kelly said the definition of compensatory measures that could replace formal break entitlements is unclear.

"Compensatory measures are not related to any entitlement to breaks, so it effectively removes the absolute right to a break, and if you don't get a break you get this thing called compensatory measures which is not spelled out."

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell.

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell. Photo: EMA

Ms Kelly said cabinet papers state the bill would let employers reduce wages.

Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Kim Campbell said adjustments over collective bargaining, and the right to opt out of multi-employer bargaining provides allows employers flexibility.

He said workers were well protected by other laws such as the Employment Contracts Act and there were more important issues for workers than the legislative changes.

"Making sure those 250,000 young people who are having trouble getting a job have something to do in the future and that we do something about raising income levels in total - I don't think we'd deny that's a bigger issue."

The legislation has already been through the select committee process, but did not pass its third and final reading following the resignation of former ACT MP John Banks from Parliament in the last term.

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