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National, Labour woo workers with policy sweeteners

The election battle is officially heating up, with National promising to sweeten Kiwisaver with auto-enrolment and Labour touting industry-specific minimum wage levels.

The election battle is officially heating up, with National promising to sweeten Kiwisaver with auto-enrolment and Labour touting industry-specific minimum wage levels. 

Finance minister Bill English said Kiwi employees not already in the scheme would be automatically enrolled come 2014/15 – assuming the government's books are back in the black by then, which is far from a sure thing.

Meanwhile, Labour is wooing voters with the promise of introducing pay ‘floors’ that would vary by industry.

“That means amending the Employment Relations Act 2000 and drawing up a new framework where better pay and standards can be extended through ‘Industry Standard Agreements’,” party employment spokesperson Darien Fenton said.

These agreements would build on existing individual, collective and multi-employer collective agreements that the act currently provides for.

“An industry union or employer could apply to a new Workplace Commission – set up under the ERA - for an Industry Standard Agreement. The Commission would determine the ‘norm’ of the standards already applying in collective agreements in a particular industry and extend those to all workplaces in the industry where there is no collective agreement."

Employers and unions will still be able to negotiate collective agreements as an alternative to the industry agreement, and individual contracts can still apply – but they cannot be less than the industry standard.

Fenton said workers would not have to join a union to be part of an Industry Standard Agreement, although unions will have access to workers as they do now.

“The model is widely used in successful economies, including Australia, which has a far more rigid system than the one Labour is proposing.

“The adaptations we plan will continue to enable unions and employers to bargain directly with each other when that is the most effective approach."

The policy has been welcomed by unions, but the Employers’ and Manufacturers’ Association called it "backward looking".

 Chief executive Kim Campbell said people in Wellington were not equipped to decide what’s good for businesses in Invercargill and Kaitaia.

“The Industry Standard Agreements policy is a one-size-fits-all approach that would take us back to the 1960s,” Campbell said.

“No matter how it's dressed up, this policy takes us back to system of national awards and it would undermine all the progress made towards flexible workplaces. National awards in today’s world would take us back to where we’ve been before – crippling transport disputes during school holidays and exports rotting on the wharves.

Labour also wants to extend employment rights for contractors, casual and temporary workers including minimum wage protection and collective bargaining, plus an increase to the minimum wage to $15 an hour and an end to the 90-day trial for new staff.