30 Oct 2014

Disagreement over employment laws

2:21 pm on 30 October 2014

Meat companies and the Meat Workers Union have strongly opposing views on new industrial relations legislation which is due to be finally passed in Parliament today.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill gives employers more power during the bargaining process and it provides for more flexibility in areas such as meal and rest breaks.

But unions said it would drive down wages and erode workers' rights.

Meat workers national secretary Graham Cooke said in some ways the new laws would be worse than the 1991 Employment Contracts Act, which weakened unions' negotiating rights.

"Many of our people have indicated to us that they are very concerned about an employer that decides to walk away from negotiations.

"We already have employers across the table that virtually just sit there smiling at us and saying, when are you going to leave because they have no intention of negotiating a collective employment agreement.

"That is where our major concern is and that's why these legislation changes are actually worse.

"At least in the Employment Contracts Act days, we were able to get around the table and negotiate and if there was a failure to negotiate then we had the opportunity of going to the courts and seeking redress with the employers, under the harsh and oppressive regime that came in."

But the Meat Industry Association, representing meat processors and exporters, supported the new industrial laws.

Chief executive Tim Ritchie, said that included changes to the collective bargaining process.

"In the event of a stalemate being reached, there is the ability for a party to go to the Employment Relations Authority to say "hey look, this is a stalemate and we're not going to get there so, having that party (the Authority) rule "yes" and therefore the exercise completes. It's just common sense that if two parties can't come to an agreement, then there's no sense in protracting it."

Mr Ritchie said the Meat Industry Association also supported more flexible arrangements for meal and rest breaks.

"I guess the essence is, it's not to take away from people the right to have breaks, that's just common sense, but it's to provide a little bit of flexibility around it, as to when they are taken."