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More business/Peters friendly

Opinion Piece

Three key changes to the Government’s workplace reform bill represent a clear backdown by Labour. This shows both a willingness to get business more onside, and how New Zealand First leader Winston Peters gets his way on issues that are important to him and his supporters.

The first big change is the retention of 90-day trials for new staff, which were going to be kept only for smaller businesses.

Second, while employers must enter into a collective wage bargaining process, the amended legislation does not compel them to settle an agreement.

Third, unions will only have the right to enter a workplace where they have a collective agreement or are bargaining for one.

It takes three major planks out of what was a foundational policy stand for Labour in the successful campaign that took it and its two partners into power.

It has left their key supporters, the unions, wanting more. The CTU says while the bill makes it easier for unions to deal with exploitative employers they want more, particularly the complete scrapping of 90-day trials. In a way, their major win is that the treasured smoko has escaped the axe.

By contrast, Business NZ says it now feels the legislation is more acceptable. Importantly, businesses can opt out of collective agreements as long as objections are based on reasonable grounds.

But the big winner in the situation is New Zealand First.

Winston Peters opposed the changes partly because it was not reasonable to impose union practices that were appropriate in Auckland on the provinces.

A shortage of skilled labour means workers will have a stronger bargaining position without the full planned amendments; Ashburton and Marlborough, for instance, are desperately seeking labour, as are key sectors in this district.

National of course says the changes still go too far, and says the party will continue to back workplace flexibility.

And while Jacinda Ardern has done well to hold a potentially fractious coalition together for just over a year, Peters has the power to act as a handbrake on any legislation he does not like.