INDEPENDENT NEWS

Questions and Answers - 20 July 2010

Published: Tue 20 Jul 2010 04:52 PM
(uncorrected transcript—subject to correction and further editing)
TUESDAY, 20 JULY 2010
QUESTIONS FOR ORAL ANSWER
QUESTIONS TO MINISTERS
Economic Recovery—Steps to Help New Zealanders
1. CRAIG FOSS (National—Tukituki) to the Minister of Finance: What steps is the Government taking to help New Zealanders get ahead as the economy recovers?
Hon BILL ENGLISH (Minister of Finance): The Government is focused squarely on developing a stronger economy, because it is the only way that New Zealand can create new jobs, higher incomes, and more opportunities. We will achieve that when business has the confidence to invest, expand, and hire new people, and when people with appropriate skills are available for those jobs. At the weekend the Prime Minister announced a fair and balanced employment package, aimed at creating jobs and boosting economic growth. This package will give more people the chance to access the job market and more businesses the confidence to create new jobs. It is one more step on the road to recovery.
Craig Foss: What are some of the features of the Government’s employment law package?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: One of the main features is extending the 90-day trial period for new employees to all workplaces. This will give employees a shot at work and will provide employers with the confidence to hire them. Employers have generally acted responsibly and workers have been treated fairly. This policy is a moderate step compared with the policies of Britain and Australia, both of which have longstanding probationary periods of between 6 months and 1 year. The Government is also making several other changes to the Employment Relations Act in line with the commitments National made in its 2008 manifesto.
Hon David Cunliffe: Does helping New Zealanders to get ahead include raising their power prices, forcing them to pay more to register their cars, lifting accident compensation rates, raising GST, and, on top of that, stripping them of employment protections by having them fired at will with no explanation?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: Clearly, the member thinks that helping New Zealanders to get ahead means raising their power prices, because under his Government those prices rose by 72 percent in 9 years. Helping New Zealanders to get ahead involves cutting their taxes, that so there is more reward for work and savings, and it involves boosting business confidence, because that is how we will create new jobs.
Craig Foss: What other measures is the Government taking to support jobs and get the economy growing faster?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: The employment measures announced in the weekend are part of the Government’s comprehensive economic programme, which includes investing in infrastructure, getting the public finances in order, providing a more competitive tax system, and generally undoing the damage done by the previous Labour Government. That Government made this economy unbalanced and uncompetitive.
Keith Locke: How much extra will it cost the taxpayer for all the publically subsidised doctors appointments resulting from allowing employers to demand a medical certificate for only 1 day’s absence from work?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I do not have those details, so I cannot answer that question.
Hon David Cunliffe: What aspect of the Government’s so-called comprehensive economic programme will deliver the so-called step change that it promised, given that it has been forced to abandon mining on the Coromandel and on Great Barrier Island? Is it the cycleway to nowhere, the Job Summit with no point, the 9-day fortnight that did not last as long as that, or the rolling maul that is a few forwards short of becoming a real scrum?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: It is the comprehensive economic package that the Government is pursuing, and if I can draw attention simply to one aspect of it, it is our multibillion-dollar investment in infrastructure, which is keeping thousands of people in work and retaining skills in New Zealand. For instance, over half of all non-residential building permits in the last 3 months were issued for public sector projects—the highest percentage in 20 years. So the Government is not only helping New Zealanders through the early stages of a recovery by providing jobs through infrastructure investment but is building a platform for a much stronger economy and more jobs.
Craig Foss: What reports has the Minister seen on the Government’s measures to support jobs and create faster economic growth?
Hon BILL ENGLISH: I can quote one opinion from one of our daily newspapers, which described the reform of personal grievance dispute procedures as “sensible” and “long overdue”. It also stated that the Government’s employment law package was “measured” and “will introduce greater coherence and flexibility into employment law.” I have also seen a report about the Government’s infrastructure programme. Pacifecon’s latest survey of construction sector activity found that four-fifths of big construction jobs are being funded by the Government. That is a significant contribution to many households in New Zealand and also to building a platform for a strong economy and new jobs.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Prime Minister’s Statements
2. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his Statement on 9 February that “Notwithstanding the public consultation process, it is my expectation that the Government will act on at least some of these recommendations and make significant changes to Schedule 4”?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes, and we are continuing with our proposal to add 14 areas, totalling 12,400 hectares of land, to schedule 4. However, we have listened carefully to the public’s concern and decided not to take any areas of land out. Instead, we are focusing the Government’s effort on assessing New Zealand’s mineral wealth in the areas outside schedule 4. That mineral wealth is likely to be very substantial.
Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister’s change of heart mean that he does not now believe in mining in our national parks and protected schedule 4 areas; if so, why did he propose it in the first place?
Hon JOHN KEY: Firstly, there are a couple of things. The Government has listened to the people of New Zealand, who, I think on balance, have said that they do not want mining on schedule 4 land but they do want expanded mining around the rest of New Zealand in certain parts, as long as it is done in an environmentally friendly way; and I support them on that. I might add that Cabinet had always taken the conservative view, which is why we whittled down the 467,000 hectares recommended by officials to a mere 7,000, before we even started the process.
Hon Phil Goff: Is it true that the people who recommended to Cabinet, with the Prime Minister’s concurrence, that 467,000 hectares of national park land be mined were Gerry Brownlee and Kate Wilkinson?
Hon JOHN KEY: No, officials recommended that.
Mr SPEAKER: Today naturally is a little robust, but I have called the honourable Leader of the Opposition. His colleagues should let him ask his question.
Hon Phil Goff: Does the Prime Minister accept the responsibility for putting forward plans to mine our national parks, and areas like Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula, or does he put the blame on Gerry Brownlee?
Hon JOHN KEY: I take responsibility for wanting New Zealand to be a wealthier country, and that is exactly what we will be doing by expanding our mining and exploration activities, just not in pristine national parks.
Hon Phil Goff: How does the Prime Minister rate the following in terms of his ambition to catch up with Australia and create jobs: his plan to mine in protected national parks, his Job Summit, the 2025 task force, Chinese investment in broadband, or New Zealand as a world centre for financial services; and what cloud is he going to jump on next?
Hon JOHN KEY: Well, I cannot be sure whether I am on cloud, but I know that the Leader of the Opposition is in a hole, from the latest polls we have seen. Talking of digging things up, the only place he will be safe is in a pristine national park, because that is the only place where he cannot dig a hole for himself. The member will have to wait and see—plenty of those things are coming.
Rahui Katene: Was he aware of the statement by the chairman of Ngāti Rehua, Rawiri Wharemate, that the Government failed to warn the hapū about its plans to commence mining on Great Barrier Island, and what influence did iwi opposition have in the decision not to remove any land from schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act?
Hon JOHN KEY: It is my understanding that Gerry Brownlee had a hui on Great Barrier Island with the iwi, and their views were a factor in the Government’s decision.
Mining in Conservation Areas—Prime Minister’s Statements
3. METIRIA TUREI (Co-Leader—Green) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by his reported statement on Breakfast TV yesterday regarding mining on schedule 4 land that “we are not environmental vandals, that’s for sure”?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Absolutely, and today we proved it.
Metiria Turei: Does he agree that today’s decision not to mine in schedule 4 land is a victory for our “clean, green” brand, which will be better off because New Zealanders fought his Government’s plan to mine in their most precious places?
Hon JOHN KEY: No.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that New Zealanders are not hysterical but are incredibly proud of these precious wilderness places and their rich biodiversity, and that New Zealanders love them for their intrinsic value?
Hon JOHN KEY: What I think came through in the submission process were two clear streams of thought. One was that New Zealanders do not want mining on national parks, and Government has accepted that. But New Zealanders also espoused the clear view that they do want to see an expansion of our mineral and exploration activities in New Zealand. The Government will now be doing that, and that is why we have commissioned, amongst other things, the aerial magnetic surveys in Northland and the West Coast of the South Island.
Metiria Turei: Can the Prime Minister confirm that our “100% Pure New Zealand” brand and our tourism industries are worth far more than mining in our national parks and precious places could ever be?
Hon JOHN KEY: One of the factors why the Government originally scaled back the large recommendation from the officials from 467,000 hectares to 7,000 hectares was recognition that there is natural tension there. But it is worth looking at the indications that came from the Tourism Industry Association and its members, because they were fifty-fifty, actually, on the issue of mining in national parks.
Metiria Turei: Will the Government consider adopting my member’s bill, currently before the House, which will increase the protections that schedule 4 provides for our national parks, our marine reserves, and our other most precious places?
Hon JOHN KEY: We have not had an opportunity to consider it but the Government will come and speak to the member about it and see whether we can lend our support.
Metiria Turei: Does the Prime Minister agree that the protection of the schedule 4 land, our national parks, the Coromandel, and Great Barrier Island is a victory for the New Zealand community and the green movement, who have made sure that his children and future generations of New Zealanders will be able to enjoy these wild places just as we do today?
Hon JOHN KEY: I think it is a clear demonstration that this is a pragmatic Government that listens to the people of New Zealand.
David Garrett: How does he explain shutting down all possibility of mining schedule 4 land while simultaneously preparing to give away billions of dollars of ironsand, manganese, and other resources from the foreshore and seabed in perpetuity to select iwi?
Hon JOHN KEY: We are not giving it away.
David Garrett: Is his mind made up regarding alienation of the foreshore and seabed from Crown ownership; if not, if it took 30,000 protesters to change the Government’s position on schedule 4 land, how many protesters would it take to stop the Government from giving away billions of dollars of resources to select iwi?
Hon JOHN KEY: Any good Government listens to the people of New Zealand. The feedback I have been getting on the foreshore and seabed recommendations made by this Government has been that they are, again, pragmatic and are seen to address the issues of access to justice and the concerns that New Zealanders had about solely having Crown ownership of the foreshore and seabed. On that basis, the Government, with the support of the Māori Party and others, will be progressing with legislation.
Industrial Relations—Prime Minister’s Statements
4. Hon PHIL GOFF (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister: Does he stand by all his statements as Prime Minister on industrial relations?
Hon JOHN KEY (Prime Minister): Yes.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did he say yesterday at his post-Cabinet press conference that under the 90- day scheme employers have to give a reason for dismissal, when the 90-day law that he has already put in place explicitly takes away from the employer the requirement to give a reason and to allow the employee being dismissed to comment on that reason?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because I believe the statement I made yesterday to be correct. That is because the 90-day period—[Interruption]—the 90-day—
Hon Darren Hughes: Aw, it’s not fair!
Hon JOHN KEY: Nice haircut! Let us get back to the 90-day probationary—do not blush, “Dazza”!
Hon Darren Hughes: It’s a pretty tough job being Prime Minister!
Mr SPEAKER: Order!
Hon Darren Hughes: It used to be so easy!
Mr SPEAKER: I am on my feet. The Leader of the Opposition asked a question that the Prime Minister appeared to be prepared to answer. I think the interjections are not assisting the answer.
Hon JOHN KEY: I will start at the beginning again. Yes, because I believe it to be correct. The reason for that is that within the 90-day period the provisions of good faith still apply. The concept of good faith—
Hon Darren Hughes: The job has got so hard!
Hon JOHN KEY: Mr Hughes can hear the answer if he wants to and not if he does not—I will not bother.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek leave to table two documents: one is a statement made by the Prime Minister that the employer has to give a good reason; the second is the Act itself, annotated to show that the employer is explicitly exempted from the requirement to give a good reason.
Mr SPEAKER: Both of these documents are readily available to members. One is a piece of statute, which is available to all members. The other is a statement that the Prime Minister made yesterday, which, again, is a press statement. So I am not about to seek that leave of the House.
Hon Phil Goff: Why are employees, according to the Employment Relations Act as set out in the statutes of this House, denied natural justice in that they are able to be dismissed without good reason and without being able to challenge the decision?
Hon JOHN KEY: I will have another go at giving the answer. The 90-day period is covered by good-faith provisions. The concept of good faith requires an employer to be communicative. It is reasonable to expect that that includes giving a basic reason. However, there is no requirement for a formal written reason.
Hon Phil Goff: What protection is there under the 90-day law to stop bad employers from sacking employees without good reason, thereby depriving them of their livelihood and leaving them with a blemish on their employment record?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because one has to honour the provisions of good faith, and an employee could take a good-faith case.
Chris Tremain: What reports has the Prime Minister received on support for the 90-day policy from those who are marginalised in the job market?
Hon JOHN KEY: I have seen a report of the case of Sanjay from Pizza Hut, who has been delivering pizzas, as it turns out, to my house for about a year. He has a master’s degree in zoology, and in India he worked in television, education, and health. He supports the policy, and is just the sort of person the policy is designed to help.
Hon Phil Goff: Why did the Prime Minister claim that the 90-day law creates extra jobs for disadvantaged job seekers, when the Department of Labour report that he released on Saturday states that that cannot be demonstrated, and states to the contrary that “very few” employers used the trial period for the purpose of giving a job to disadvantaged job seekers?
Hon JOHN KEY: Because the same report quite clearly states that “40% of employers stated they would not have or were not likely to have hired that person without the trial period.”
Hon Rodney Hide: What does it say about the broad acceptance of this Government’s employment law changes when the position of Phil Goff in Opposition is supported by former Alliance party strategist Matt McCarten, former Green MP Sue Bradford, and professional protester John Minto, especially when those veteran protesters from the 1970s could not even find the right building in which to finally start their long-hoped-for class war?
Hon JOHN KEY: I suspect it says that if they are not good at navigation, they should not give up their jobs as serial protesters and become taxi drivers, because they will not last the 90 days.
Employment—Extension of 90-day Trial Period to All Employers
5. DAVID BENNETT (National—Hamilton East) to the Minister of Labour: Why is the Government extending the 90-day trial period to all employers?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Because the 90-day trial period for small businesses has been a great success. It has given employees jobs that they otherwise might not have got, and it has given employers confidence to employ people and grow their businesses. All over the country employers and employees are telling me that the trial period is opening up opportunities and is being used responsibly. Those sentiments have been endorsed by a report by the Department of Labour that found up to 40 percent of employers using the trial period would not have hired the employee without a trial period being available. Indeed, in today’s paper there were two letters from employers who would not have employed people if it had not been for the very successful trial period.
David Bennett: What protections are available under the 90-day trial period?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The good-faith provisions of the Employment Relations Act apply, meaning that all dealings between employers and employees need to be reasonable and honest. Remedies are available to employees in the case of sexual or racial harassment or any kind of discrimination. Mediation is available to the parties to help address any issues that arise. Protections regarding pay, conditions, leave, and health and safety are unaffected by the trial period. Those protections have worked well, and the trial period has generally been used responsibly by employers and employees.
Su'a William Sio: How can she claim that this policy has helped those on the margins of the labour market when figures from Statistics New Zealand show unemployment for Pacific peoples has increased from 7.8 to 14 percent while unemployment for Māori rose from 9.8 to 15.4 percent and when her own department’s evaluation of the scheme to date shows that 79 percent of employees hired on the trial period were European?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: This trial period is about giving opportunities to employees and those at the margins. In fact, those hired under a trial period represented 14 percent of the Māori population. The trial period is about opportunities—
Hon Darren Hughes: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. I appreciate that my colleague’s supplementary question contained a lot of statistics, but he clearly was talking about Pacific people, not Māori people. Her response was not consistent with his question.
Mr SPEAKER: I beg to differ with the honourable member. Su’a William Sio also specifically mentioned Māori statistics as well, and the Minister is at liberty to choose some part of the supplementary question, which was somewhat lengthy.
Rahui Katene: How many Māori started employment under the new scheme, and how many, if any, Māori were kept on after the 90-day trial period?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It is not possible to say exactly how many Māori have used the 90- day trial or were kept on after the trial. I expect that, like all New Zealanders, Māori, where appropriate, have taken up, and will take up, the trial period opportunity because it gives them a good chance to get a job. As mentioned in my earlier answer, according to the department study, 14 percent of those hired on a trial period were of Māori ethnicity.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Do the good-faith provisions override the employer’s rights to dismiss without giving a reason?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The good-faith provisions have been preserved in the legislation. In particular, section 4(1A)(a) and (b) of the Employment Relations Act, regarding the duty of good faith, is retained for trial periods. Paragraph (b) “requires the parties to an employment relationship to be active and constructive in establishing and maintaining a productive employment relationship in which the parties are, among other things, responsive and communicative;”. That is protected in the trial provisions.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Mallard’s question asked whether those good-faith provisions override the employer’s right to dismiss without giving a reason. It was a very straight question; it was a very narrow question. It has not been addressed.
Mr SPEAKER: The member has made an interesting point; I appreciate that absolutely. I may be wrong here, but I suspect that the member is asking the Minister to give a legal interpretation of the statute. Of course, Ministers are not in a position to do that. The Minister has, in answering the question, outlined what the statute says, and I am presuming it is then a matter of legal interpretation as to exactly what that statute permits and what it does not permit. That is why I believe that the Minister has reasonably answered the question.
Hon David Parker: Further to the point of order—
Mr SPEAKER: I will hear the honourable member again because it is an interesting issue.
Hon David Parker: In response to the original question that the Government asked of itself, the Minister said that good-faith provisions applied, implying that the employer did not have an
unambiguous right to dismiss without giving a reason. My colleague Mr Mallard asked a specific question from a policy perspective; it is not a legal question. He asked whether the good-faith obligation that the Minister referred to overrides the employer’s right to dismiss without giving a reason. I submit that it is a very specific and appropriate policy question.
Mr SPEAKER: As the member should be aware, having been a Minister, the point is that if the law does not actually say that in those words, then it is a matter of interpretation. Ministers have to be careful not to seek to interpret what the statute says. That is why I feel it would be wrong of me to insist on the Minister’s giving a particular answer to that. She has cited what the statute says, and it is then up to interpretation as to whether it means something can or cannot happen.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is it the Government’s policy, and was it the Minister’s intention as she introduced the 90-day legislation in 2008, for the good-faith provisions to override the employer’s rights to dismiss without giving a reason?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: When the 90-day trial was first introduced it was very specific. It retained the good-faith provisions contained in section 4(1A)(a) and (b), and it excluded paragraph (c), which relates to access to information and opportunities to comment, because of the time frames of that, which were some weeks, 60 days for some reasons, and which would actually be too prescriptive in relation to the process.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. Mr Mallard asked whether the policy intention was that the good-faith provisions override the right to dismiss without notice. That is the point of contention here. The Minister has been asked this question on two occasions; it is a central issue concerning this legislation. It is now being applied to all other groups—
Mr SPEAKER: I think the member has made his point without needing to go on any further. On this occasion the Hon Trevor Mallard asked exactly what the Government’s intention was in respect of those issues. I do not believe that the Minister has on this occasion answered that question—the answer must be about what the Government intended. It is a relevant issue, and there is a genuine public interest in that issue. The question is not asking the Minister to interpret a statute; it is asking what the Government’s intention was when it introduced the statute. I invite the Minister, if it is possible and in the public interest, to answer that question.
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It is the Government’s intention that we have employment legislation and an employment regime that is flexible and is fair to both employers and employees. The idea of the 90-day trial was to give employers the confidence to take on new employees and to give employees the opportunity to get their foot in the door. And if, for any reason, the employment relationship was not working, the relationship could be terminated without the need to go through the prescriptive dismissal process under the legislation.
Hon David Parker: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. It would be perfectly permissible for the Minister to say “I don’t know.” But the Minister has not addressed—
Mr SPEAKER: The member is questioning whether the Minister has answered the question. What I might do is invite the Hon Trevor Mallard to repeat his question, because the question was commendably brief and to the point. I invite the Hon Trevor Mallard to repeat his question.
Hon Trevor Mallard: The first part will not be an exact repeat because it was not written—
Mr SPEAKER: In so far as the member is able.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Was it the Government’s intention, as it introduced the 2008 legislation, that the good-faith provisions override the employers’ rights to dismiss without giving a reason?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The Government’s intention, when it introduced the 90-day trial, was that the duty of good faith did actually stay and was there for the protection of parties, in terms of paragraphs (a) and (b) of the legislation. They were specifically retained.
Hon Phil Goff: I seek the leave of the House to table an article from Lawlink, saying that under the trial period the employer does not have to tell the employee of the decision to terminate, that employees have no right to comment, and that they are not able to request the reasons for their dismissal.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection. Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Jacinda Ardern: How can she claim that the 90-day trial will provide real opportunities for people at the margins of the labour market, including young people, when a quarter of those who did get jobs under this scheme have since been fired and there has been a 12 percent increase in youth unemployment since this policy was introduced?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The report actually said that three out of the four had been retained. In relation to the one out of the four, it was not a question of firing. In one case it was because the employee’s family did not want the employee to be employed.
David Bennett: What reports has she seen about the 90-day trial period?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen an editorial from the Christchurch Press noting that “Especially for those with limited skill levels or work experience, the scheme can spell the difference between getting a foot in the labour market door and lingering on the dole.” The Herald on Sunday wrote that “Anything that encourages an employer to take a punt on a new worker and in particular to give a chance to someone who shows promise, but lacks credentials, must be worth trying. It defies common sense that cost-conscious bosses will casually sack someone they have spent 3 months training.” We have also had support from a surprising, but welcome, source. When asked about the 90-day trial period, the former president of the Labour Party, Mike Williams, said: “I don’t think the unions are going to win the argument.” Mike Williams understands that the public take a common-sense approach and would prefer to give workers a go rather than leave them locked out of the labour market.
Carol Beaumont: How does she think allowing all employers to fire staff without reason within 90 days will encourage investment in training and upskilling in the workplace?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: This policy is about giving opportunities. This is a policy in relation to hiring staff, yet the Labour Party considers it is a policy relating to firing staff. If we look at the 40 percent of employers who would not have taken on an employee without a trial period, we see that that in itself is indicative of the success of the policy.
Carol Beaumont: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. My question was quite specific. It asked how this policy will encourage investment in training and upskilling in the workplace, but I do not believe the Minister touched on either of those points.
Mr SPEAKER: Members asking questions need to be aware that when they ask for Ministers’ opinions about things like that, they will not always get the answers they seek. Today members have had a very, very sharp lesson in how to ask tough questions.
Carol Beaumont: Can she confirm that someone can be dismissed because, first, that person asked for some time off; second, he or she questioned a manager’s decision; or, third, the boss’s golf partner’s son needs a job; and does she consider that to be fair?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I am not going to comment on hypothetical situations that require interpretation of an employment contract, the Employment Relations Act, and actual conduct that happened in the workplace.
Employment—Proposed Legislative Reform
6. Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) to the Minister of Labour: Does she agree with all of the Prime Minister’s statements about the Government’s proposed new labour laws?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Yes.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Will her legislative change include a provision to allow people who have shifted from a permanent position into one where they can be dismissed without a reason being
given to be reinstated in their original position; if so, will that be limited to people who were in their previous position for more than 12 months?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The member will just have to wait and see what is in the actual wording of the proposed bill. Can I say in relation to the 90-day trial that there will be workers who do not want to leave the security of their present job and go to a new job with a 90-day trial, but this policy is helpful to those on the margins, those who have not had a job for awhile, those who are young and inexperienced, and migrants who do not have sufficient command of English. Those people can ask to be given a go and can get their foot in the employment market.
Hon Tau Henare: What reports has she seen about—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Welcome back, Tau.
Hon Tau Henare: Thank you very much. They found a heart, and it is a real one! What reports has she seen about the trial period currently available to small businesses?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have seen a press statement from the Council of Trade Unions, issued back in 2008, which states: “Any small business that uses this law can expect to see the union and we will also publicly name and shame those that come to our attention.” I can only say that there has been no public naming and shaming, which suggests to me that the hysteria around the original bill has come to naught.
Hon Tau Henare: What protections for employees has the Government announced as part of the employment reform package?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: We have announced plans to double the maximum penalties under the Employment Relations Act and the Holidays Act. These increases underline the Government’s view that it is important that employers meet their legal obligations. We are also extending the powers of labour inspectors, including making it easier to ensure that all employees receive at least the legal minimum wages and conditions.
Accident Compensation—Effect of Employers’ Experience Rating
7. MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister for ACC: How will experience rating of ACC for employers improve workplace safety, ensure fairer levies, and encourage appropriate return-to-work programmes?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH (Minister for ACC): The current system of averaging accident compensation levies means that safer workplaces are paying for the substandard work practices of others. Experience rating removes these cross-subsidies and provides stronger financial incentives for businesses to improve their safety records. Research also shows that keeping an employee engaged with his or her employer through appropriate return-to-work programmes ensures better rehabilitation, and this too is encouraged by experience rating.
Michael Woodhouse: What steps has the Government taken to ensure that smaller businesses and the self-employed are also given stronger safety incentives, despite their size making experience rating difficult to implement?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: We have developed a very simple system of no-claim bonuses to be offered to businesses paying less than $10,000 a year in accident compensation levies. If such a small business has no income compensation claim—that is, for an injury involving someone being away from work for more than a week—in the previous 3 years, then it will be eligible for a 10 percent no-claim bonus. The Accident Compensation Corporation estimates that 220,000 small businesses and self-employed people will receive this 10 percent no-claim bonus next year.
Michael Woodhouse: What research basis is there to show a clear link between safer workplaces and experience rating?
Hon Dr NICK SMITH: Recent research in both Canada and the Netherlands shows a clear beneficial linkage between experience rating and safety improvements, showing the benefit to be a 15 percent decline in accidents. Noting that New Zealand workplaces injure 600 people every week and kill about one New Zealander each week, this measure has the potential to save five lives a year
and to prevent 3,000 injuries per year. The Government is consulting on the specifics of the experience rating system, to ensure that we get the detail right and that we get the maximum safety benefits.
Employment—Consultation on 90-day Trial Period
8. Hon NANAIA MAHUTA (Labour—Hauraki-Waikato) to the Minister of Māori Affairs: Was he consulted by the Prime Minister or the Minister of Labour in relation to the extension of the 90-day trial period announced this weekend; if so, what was his response?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES (Minister of Māori Affairs): Tēnā koe, Mr Speaker. Tēnā tātou e te Whare. No.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Does he stand by his statement: “Look the 90-day bill we voted against it, we fought against it, we didn’t get it … but you go for the greater good and that’s why we’re there”; if so, where is the greater good to be found in supporting a Government that is removing basic rights from Māori workers?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: My views are well known on opposing that legislation, but the key thing in working with the Government is that we agree to disagree on certain issues.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta: Not good enough. How can he support a law that makes it easier for employers to sack their workers, casualising the workforce; and how will that measure help the 22,000 Māori who are currently unemployed or the 36 percent of young unemployed Māori to get into a job?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: We do not support the current legislation. The issue is not about failing to support a trial. A trial is fine, but once one removes the right to appeal, then that is why we oppose that law.
Carmel Sepuloni: Does he agree with his co-leader, Tariana Turia, that there is “no evidence” that the 90-day probation period will lead to employers taking on more young Māori; if so, how can he justify his continued support of a Government that has raised GST, denied Māori representation on the super-city, and ignored his objections twice on the 90-day, fire-at-will law?
Hon Dr PITA SHARPLES: I do agree with Tariana Turia, my co-leader, and I work with this Government because it has been able to create initiatives like Māra Kai, Whānau Ora, Youth Training, literacy programmes, early childhood programmes, and other initiatives.
Roading, Newmarket Viaduct—Replacement
9. Dr JACKIE BLUE (National) to the Minister of Transport: What progress has been made on the Newmarket viaduct replacement project?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE (Minister of Transport): I am pleased to announce that the southern half of the Newmarket viaduct replacement project will be completed more than 6 months ahead of schedule, on 6 September. The initial opening of three lanes is an important milestone in the $215 million project. Contractors are now on track to complete a fourth southbound lane by early 2011. The delivery of this new stretch of motorway 6 months early matches the performance of the team working on the Manukau Harbour crossing, which is also due to be completed 6 months early.
Dr Jackie Blue: What contribution has Government funding made to the early completion of roading projects like the Newmarket viaduct?
Hon STEVEN JOYCE: I am pleased that this Government’s $10.7 billion commitment to State highway building over 10 years has provided a secure pipeline that has given contractors the confidence to continue investing in people and machinery, and complete projects more quickly. The Contractors Federation stated last week: “The subsequent steady stream of projects and funding announcements have turned that enthusiasm into a higher level of confidence in an industry that would otherwise be focusing on a reduction of capacity.” The Government and industry are now able to look confidently ahead and deliver transport infrastructure projects that will assist New Zealand’s economic recovery.
Employment—Exclusions from 90-day Trial Period
10. GRANT ROBERTSON (Labour—Wellington Central) to the Minister of Labour: Are there any groups of employees that will be excluded from the extended 90-day trial period?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): Yes, any employee or group of employees that does not sign up to a trial period and does not want one in their employment agreement. They do not have to have a trial period if they do not want one.
Grant Robertson: Does the Minister support the application of the 90-day policy to the State sector, including nurses, teachers, prison officers, and social workers; if so, what does she think the impact will be on the quality of public services that New Zealanders receive?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The 90-day trial period is optional; it is not compulsory. I imagine that many groups of professionals, like doctors, nurses, and teachers, do not need a trial period, because they already have an existing job or they have qualifications and experience to get them into that employment market. They are not the ones on the margins of the employment field, who are the ones more likely to benefit from the 90-day trial. But if they want one, they can have one.
Allan Peachey: Who would be unlikely to agree to a 90-day trial period?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Well, apart from Mr Goff, most people changing jobs are unlikely to need to agree to a trial period as they will have a demonstrated work history and qualifications. This is particularly relevant for people like doctors and nurses. I would not expect them to accept or want a trial period.
Grant Robertson: Would the Minister expect any State sector agencies to ask employees for a 90-day trial period?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Well, it is up to the sector and groups themselves whether they want to ask for it.
Phil Twyford: Does she expect that the extension of the 90-day law will mean that all 6,000 staff of the new Auckland Council will be able to be dismissed for no reason in the first 90 days?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: Unfortunately, that shows blatant ignorance of the law. The trial period relates only to new employees; it does not relate to existing employees.
Economic Stimulus Package, Housing—Result
11. KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the Minister of Housing: What has been the result of the extra $124.5 million that the Government provided for housing as part of the fiscal stimulus package?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY (Minister of Housing): Housing New Zealand has carried out well over 20,000 upgrades to State houses. Of those, over 11,000 were funded directly by the stimulus package. That is 11,000 additional families who would otherwise still live in old, cold houses full of mould that the previous Government left them in. The package also paid for 87 new State houses out of the 846 additional State houses that have been delivered over the last 2 financial years. The package also provided work for thousands of workers during a downturn.
Katrina Shanks: What are the current challenges facing housing?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The State housing portfolio was left to us with significant challenges. In fact, I am advised that there are more than 20,000 State houses that are the wrong size, in the wrong place, or in a serious state of disrepair. This Government wants the right houses, of the right standard, in the right places in New Zealand for those most in need.
Moana Mackey: Does he understand that while the recession may be over for him and his National colleagues, it is not over for the 11,000 people currently sitting on Housing New Zealand Corporation’s waiting list; and maybe, instead of patting himself on the back for the fact that he delivered an 80 percent cut in the housing budget, he might want to do his job and help get those families into housing?
Hon PHIL HEATLEY: The House might be interested to know that the waiting list has remained at around 10,000 people for the last decade—10,000 every year for the last decade. The
question should be asked how the National Government was able to hold the waiting list at 10,000 during a recession, when the previous Labour Government could not hold it at that even during the good times.
Employment—Trial Employment Periods: An Evaluation of the First Year of Operation
12. DARIEN FENTON (Labour) to the Minister of Labour: Does she agree with any of the conclusions reached by the Department of Labour in its Trial Employment Periods evaluation; if so, which ones?
Hon KATE WILKINSON (Minister of Labour): I do agree with some of the conclusions reached by the Department of Labour, but can I say that the evaluation was not exhaustive and in some areas could not be conclusive. However, it has provided some very encouraging indications about how the 90-day trial is helping New Zealanders into jobs.
Hon Darren Hughes: Point of order.
Mr SPEAKER: I hear the honourable member. The question asked whether the Minister agreed with any of the conclusions—which the Minister has indicated—then asked: “if so, which ones?”. Being a question on notice, I think the Minister should answer as to which of the conclusions she does agree with—at least, some of them.
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I agree and I applaud the conclusion that 40 percent of employers using the trial period would not have employed that person if not for the trial period. That has to be a positive benefit of the trial period.
Darien Fenton: Which statements are correct: the ones from herself and the Prime Minister that this policy has helped those on the margins of the labour market to get jobs, or the Department of Labour evaluation, which found that 72 percent of those hired under the 90-day law were European, while those overrepresented on the margins—Māori and Pacific Islanders—made up only 14 percent and 6 percent respectively?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: It certainly helped those 72 percent, and also the 14 percent and the 6 percent. The study is not conclusive, but it does show that all types of New Zealanders are making use of the trial period, and they are often getting jobs they otherwise would not have got. That must be positive.
Darien Fenton: How balanced a view does she think the Department of Labour evaluation has been able to reach on the benefits and risks of the 90-day trial, considering that it talked to or surveyed 3,532 employers and just 13 employees?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: The study itself is only one part of the toolkit that we have used. We have also been speaking to employees and employers from around the country, and we have received very, very positive feedback. In fact, if we look at this morning’s New Zealand Herald, we see two letters that talk about employers’ taking on employees whom they would not have employed without a trial period. I think it is a positive development and it is bringing us more in line with what is happening in international jurisdictions such as the United Kingdom and Australia, both of which have more onerous trial provisions.
Darien Fenton: Did she advise the Prime Minister that the Pizza Hut delivery worker who came to his house has no employment rights or protections against unfair dismissal because he is an independent contractor, and that the Prime Minister’s Government voted against workers like that delivery man getting even the minimum wage last year?
Hon KATE WILKINSON: I have given no advice to the Prime Minister on the employment status of his pizza delivery man, and neither should I.
ENDS

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