The Government promised that it would substantially overhaul New Zealand’s employment laws in its first couple of years in office.
During the years of the National-led Government of former Prime Minister John Key and later former Prime Minister Bill English, significant concerns were raised about New Zealand workplace relations. Concerns existed about:
- How migrant workers were treated and their understanding (or lack of)of their rights as employees in New Zealand
- The youth wage, which was reintroduced during the Ministerial tenure of Simon Bridges
- Occupational Safety and Health, especially in fisheries, farming and other high risk industries where a number of high profile cases occurred
The concerns were not restricted to just the ones mentioned above. These were just the more frequent ones. They were also the issues that tended to provoke the strongest public reaction.
When an attempt was made to amend the rules around when employees could have breaks, whilst at work, concerns were raised about the potential for exploitation. In some professions having regular breaks unless one is in an office environment, might not be always possible, in which case the employer has to reach an agreement with the affected employee/s about some sort of compensatory measure to cover. The new provisions in the incoming legislation require that the employer permit a 10 minute break in work lasting 2 hours but less than 4 hours; a 10 minute break + a 30 minute break if it exceeds 4 hours but is less than 6; 2x 10 minute breaks + a 30 minute break if exceeding 6 but is less than 8.
Trueto form, The Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2018 is before Parliament now and currently open for public submissions. The closing date for submissions is Friday 30 March 2018.
On Friday New Zealand workers lost a friend, an advocate and one to make their number truly proud.
Helen Kelly came from a background strong on politics. Her Dad was President of the Wellington Council of Trade Unions and her mother organized anti-Vietnam War protests. It is not that she did not consider politics as a means to advancing her cause. She was offered a spot on the Labour Party list when she considered standing in 2014, but as it had so many other times, worker causes got in the way.
Whether one is a unionist or not, one has to respect the work Ms Kelly did over the years, tirelessly standing up to businesses and notable New Zealanders on behalf of workers rights. Ms Kelly went after Federated Farmers, the management of Pike River miners, forestry operations among others. Some of the campaigns were not universally supported, whilst others resulted in significant drops in work place accidents, changes in what were understood to be best practices
When Ms Kelly was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2015 the fighter who stood up for vulnerable and hard done by workers and their families began a new and much more personal fight. She became a voice for the legalization of medical marijuana and in the months up to yesterday morning, she graciously gave up time she could have spent privately, allowing the media to interview her. She was interviewed showing how she prepared a marijuana brew illegally and talking about how it mitigated the physical pain she was on. I have long thought medical marijuana should be legalized, and if evidence was needed to swing the public opinion, this had to be it.
Helen Kelly is gone now, but the fight she rightfully involved herself so heavily in representing the interests of the worker goes on. The many issues still to be resolved and and vulnerable and hard done by workers needing a voice still need an advocate – still need another Helen Kelly.
Ms Kelly’s efforts on behalf of workers won her respect from both sides of Parliament. Prime Minister John Key called her a tenacious fighter. And at her C.T.U. leaving function Opposition Leader Andrew Little called her fearless.
Thank you Helen. Thank you very much.
Rest In Peace.