Why business concerns aren’t junk


Which was why, when a government minister recently said one of the biggest business confidence surveys going around was “junk”, I was puzzled.

I assume he didn’t like its findings, which showed confidence continuing a subdued trend since the election. That means he also won’t like the Wellington Chamber’s quarterly survey or the others that do the rounds, because they’re all telling the same story.

Business confidence surveys ask businesses about how they’re feeling and what they expect to happen to themselves and the national economy. They reflect what I’m being told face-to-face, and I doubt the minister would be willing to tell too many of these businesspeople to their face that what they’re saying is junk. …

The problem for the Government is that confidence is not going to improve as long as they insist on pushing ahead with their proposed changes to industrial legislation.

Two weeks ago in this column, I expressed serious concerns about the effects the removal of 90-day trial periods from companies with more than 20 employees would have on employment, workers and the economy.

But there are three other parts of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill as it’s drafted that will further reduce flexibility and harm the growth prospects of businesses.

They are provisions that allow union reps to enter a workplace without permission, force businesses to settle collective agreements even if they don’t or can’t agree, and force them to join a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA).

Every single change proposed by Labour greatly benefits unions and harms businesses.

Similarly, rather than improving industrial relations, removing the right of employers to opt out of bargaining is likely to make it worse. Both parties can now opt out but removing only the employers’ right to do so is asking for trouble and bad agreements created under duress.

Not even pretending it will be an equal playing field.

If that doesn’t cause its own friction, forcing businesses to join a MECA will. This provision forces every company in an industry that has workers in the same union to agree to the negotiated multi-employer collective, irrespective of how well the company treats and pays its employees, or wants to. What’s more, employees not in the union won’t be able to negotiate better conditions than those who are.

Again this is designed to get more money into unions, so unions can spend more money and resources helping Labour get elected.

Employers agree with the goal of developing a modern, high-performing economy, but they would like to understand how dredging up failed and divisive labour laws will help that happen.

No matter what the question, Labour’s answer seems to be the 1970s.


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