Bosses won't be required to partake in multi-employer bargaining or (in a return to the original Employment Relations Act) have to conclude a collective agreement under a package of employment law measures approved by Cabinet yesterday.
Other changes announced by labour minister Kate Wilkinson were:
• Allowing for partial pay reductions in cases of partial strike action
• Removing the 30-day rule that forces non-union members to take union terms and conditions
• Extending the right to request flexible working hours to all employees from day one
• Requiring parties to provide notice of a strike or lock-out.
The changes reflect National’s election manifesto and reflected trends in modern lifestyles, she said.
“Flexible hours are often agreed to informally, and by extending eligibility to all employees, we hope to encourage agreement without having to go through a formal process.”
The "modest" changes to collective bargaining would address unnecessary bureaucracy, she said.
The Employers and Manufacturers Association welcomed the moves.
"Not everyone wants to belong to a union," said David Lowe, employment services manager.
"Individual employees should have the choice from the outset of starting work on whether they want to join a union; removing the mandatory 30-day union membership rule will reinstate that choice.
"Employers will welcome the removal of the need to conclude a collective agreement. If the parties cannot reach an agreement they should not be bound to put the business at risk, as at present, and keep on negotiating endlessly."
But the EPMU, First Union and Council of Trade Unions have spoken out against the changes.
Helen Kelly, CTU president, said the removal of the duty to conclude collective bargaining would be seen as the "Port of Auckland clause".
EPMU national secretary Bill Newson said the government should channel efforts into raising productivity levels rather than undermining collective bargaining.
More changes in the pipeline?
A report by the Dominion Post says Labour has obtained confidential Cabinet papers outlining changes that go even further.
The documents suggest the government plans to let employers set the agenda for collective contract negotiations, and pay staff under the minimum wage if they are participating in a partial strike.
But a statement from the Labour Department apparently says the changes could be in breach of international labour laws.