BusinessNZ opens new front on Fair Pay Bill while facing questions over lobbying

BusinessNZ has raised another objection to the Government’s proposed Fair Pay Bill, citing a legal opinion that it said suggested the law change could breach the country’s Bill of Rights.

Chief executive Kirk Hope said the lobby group had commissioned an opinion from Thorndon Chambers litigator Andrew Butler, which he said had concluded there were several parts of the Bill that were not likely to be consistent with the Bill of Rights.

Butler’s concerns included the legislation’s “departure from the principle of voluntariness” and its “interference in multiple ways with party autonomy”, he said.

Butler has been approached for comment.

* Auckland Council not renewing its Business NZ membership
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BusinessNZ had previously stated that the International Labour Organisation had separately concluded the Fair Pay Bill would need to be amended to avoid breaching its convention on collective bargaining.

Appearing in front of Parliament’s Education and Workforce select committee on Wednesday, Hope acknowledged that the ILO itself had not said that, but said BusinessNZ remained of the view that the Fair Pay Bill was highly likely to breach the convention in its current form.

The select committee is in the midst of hearing 30 hours of evidence from supporters and opponents of the Fair Pay Bill, which is designed to facilitate the negotiation – or imposition by the Employment Relations Authority – of minimum pay and conditions for workers that could apply across industries and occupations.

Fair Pay Agreements would not replace employment contracts which would continue to be negotiated individually between employers and workers or through collective bargaining, and would not prevent the negotiation of higher pay, but employers would not be allowed to undercut their terms in their contracts with staff.

Fair Pay Agreements wouldn’t replace employment contracts but would set minimum terms.


Fair Pay Agreements wouldn’t replace employment contracts but would set minimum terms.

Some employers have directly raised concerns with MPs.

Willisbrook Orchards business adviser Richard Palmer said the “small family orchard” near Nelson was a good employer but had an “inherent need for flexibility” in its employment agreements because of factors such as the weather.

Fair Pay Agreements could set minimums that did not reflect the realities of the business, he said.

DB Breweries general counsel Karyn O’Loughlin said it “supported the overarching concept of a framework that enables vulnerable employees in certain industries to have more rights when it comes to being able to bargain with their employers”.

But it said the Bill was “too complex and too far-reaching”.

Paul Steiner, national operations manager of franchised restaurant chain Lone Star, said it was concerned by the “broad brush application of rates and conditions”.

Pay at Lone Star’s Dunedin restaurant averaged $27 an hour, he said.

“I don’t buy the argument that our industry doesn’t pay well”​.

But Fair Pay Agreements could potentially drive up that average to a point where it became unsustainable, he said.

Council of Trade Unions secretary Melissa Ansell-Bridges told MPs the law change was required to address what she described as a “take it or leave it attitude” that she said was very common among employers.

“There is a lack of freedom that working people have currently in terms of advancing their interests at work,” she said.

E tū union advocate Alastair Duncan told the select committee the Bill did not go far enough, saying Fair Pay Agreements would not set minimum terms for some “basics” including overtime and “weekend pay” and made no reference to gender equity.

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