Former National Party prime minister Jim Bolger will lead a government working group looking at setting up sector wide collective negotiations.
The plan is to set up Fair Pay Agreements to be struck between unions and employers setting minimum terms and conditions of employment for all workers in an entire industry or occupation.
Under Mr Bolger‘s watch in the 1990s, the controversial Employment Contracts Act was passed, which saw the end of compulsory unions and the deregulation of employer-employee bargaining.
But now it appears he wants to get involved in a new form of collective bargaining.
“What we are looking at really is what is fair,” Mr Bolger said.
He will lead a nine-person panel made up of representatives from business, unions, academia, hospitality and sport.
He said he decided to take part because there was a sense out there that the world was no longer fair.
“That some have made obscene wealth and some are missing out altogether, we try to look after the bottom through minimum wage rates, but it‘s the middle that seems to be almost forgotten,” Mr Bolger said.
“What we have to do and what the panel will have to do – 10 good people – is find some answers in this space.”
Fair Pay Agreements would be industry or sector wide – like the care and support workers settlement done under the former National-led Government.
Minister of Workplace Relations Iain Lees-Galloway explained the difference between that kind of agreement and a Multi-Employer Collective Agreement.
“Multi-employer Collective Agreements only involve the specific employers that are involved in the bargaining, whereas this will apply across an occupation or an industry,” Mr Lees-Galloway said.
“It will apply to all employers, it will also apply to all workers, unionised or not.”
Mr Lees-Galloway said unlike existing collective bargaining, strikes and lockouts would not be permitted in negotiations for a Fair Pay Agreement.
He said there was some concern that if there was a form of industry wide bargaining, there could be industry wide industrial action – which would not be in anyone‘s best interests.
“There are other ways to deal with impasses and disagreements than just industrial action, that remains available for standard collective bargaining, multi-employer collective bargaining – nothing‘s changing there,” he said.
“But for these particular agreements, they are special, they do represent a significant change from how we do industrial relations in New Zealand and we think we can do them without industrial action.”
Business New Zealand chief executive John Milford said the businesses he represented did have some concerns about industry wide bargaining.
“Concerns around flexibility, ensuring that the flexibility is there for businesses to be able to interact with their employees to make sure that relationship is still strong there with their own employees in their own business,” Mr Milford said.
“Cost of course, cost is a concern, we want to ensure that all businesses can actually afford the outcomes, because if they can‘t afford the outcomes, then that is not a good thing for business.”
He said it was important that what came out of the working group and the ensuing legislation was something that was supported by the majority of businesses and employees.
“So we‘re going in with some concerns, having said that we are pleased to be of the solution, we are pleased to be around the table because if we can‘t put our concerns there then we can‘t stand on the outside and lob hand grenades in.”
Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff said he doesn‘t imagine the agreements would cover sectors where there was already strong collective bargaining.
“I doubt that we will see industry standard agreements for nurses or teachers or for a whole lot of workers who already have strong collectives,” Mr Wagstaff said.
“It‘s more likely to be in those industries where there isn‘t effective collective bargaining like the care and support industry.”
The working group will cost $300,000 – the money will come out of existing Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment baselines.
The panel is expected to make recommendations to the Minister by the end of this year.