Replacement Workers – Are the times (and the law) changing?
On 13 June the Employment Relations (Continuity of Labour) Amendment Bill was drawn from the ballot of private members’ bills, meaning that it will soon be introduced to Parliament and debated in the House. This Bill targets section 97 of the Employment Relations Act 2000.
As it currently stands, section 97 permits employers to employ or engage another person to perform the work of a striking or locked out employee in limited circumstances. That is, when employees are lawfully on strike or locked out, an employer cannot require non-striking or non-locked out employees to perform their work. Nor can an employer employ new workers to perform those tasks except on health or safety grounds.
The Bill aims to repeal section 97 completely. The explanatory note attached to the Bill justifies this proposed repeal on the grounds that section 97 creates an imbalance between unions and employers, and that “restricting the ability of employers to engage temporary replacement labour can have a considerable impact on the productivity and financial viability of an organisation”.
The National Party has promised to support the Bill through its first reading and to Select Committee. It has not committed to anything further than that. It is likely that the Bill will need the support of ACT and either United Future or New Zealand First to even get to Select Committee, as the Opposition are lining up against any repeal of section 97. We note that Peter Dunne of United Future, a potential supporter, has signalled he will vote against the Bill. That leaves Winston Peters as the likely kingmaker.
We will keep an eye out on developments with this Bill, as it could potentially have a significant impact on strikes and lock outs.