Legal right to exploit

Wednesday, August 7, 1991

By Ian Powell

WELLINGTON — Workers at the Ashton Rest Home in Marton (a small rural town in the central North Island) are experiencing the exploitative nature of the Employment Contracts Act.

Five workers were pressured by the manager of the rest home, Trevor Harris, to accept new individual contracts or face the sack. Because of this, two of the workers left their jobs.

The workers are represented by the Service Workers Union, which has negotiated a number of collective contracts with other rest homes since the award expired in May. Under the Employment Contracts Act, awards become individual contracts upon their expiry unless replaced by new collective employment contracts.

The Ashton workers had authorised the union to negotiate a new collective contract. However, management refused to talk with the union and pressured workers both to leave the union and to withdraw bargaining authorisation forms. Management then said that, if the workers did not sign the new individual contracts, they would be made redundant or locked out.

The proposed individual contracts would significantly reduce the workers' conditions and rights. They provided for removal of penal rates and overtime, downgrading of breaks, reduction of sick leave to the statutory minimum, deletion of allowances and long service leave and removal of union rights.

When questioned about this action by a Wellington newspaper, Harris responded: "Why should I have to negotiate? I am the employer. The rules have changed. There's no such thing as unions now, I hope you realise."

Under the Employment Contracts Act, for the first time since 1894 industrial legislation fails to provide any recognition or role for unions.

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