New Zealand Permanent Mission Geneva, Switzerland

102nd International Labour Conference, Geneva

Hon Simon Bridges

Tena koutou, Tena koutou katoa (Greetings to you, greetings to you all).

Mr President, fellow delegates. I’m very pleased to be able to address this plenary session on behalf of the New Zealand Government.

Sustainable development, employment, social protection, and social dialogue are all central to this Conference's objective of "Building a Future with Decent Work". New Zealand shares this objective. Building a brighter future through growing a productive economy that delivers sustainable growth and employment is a key priority for my Government.

We are doing so, in part, by making measured adjustments to our employment relations system aimed at giving employers and employees more certainty, fairness and flexibility. This is important in increasing productivity and encouraging businesses to grow and create jobs.

We have steadily increased the adult Minimum Wage to ensure a robust wage floor that balances employee welfare against the need to protect jobs. We have also introduced a Starting-Out Wage designed to promote the employment of young, inexperienced workers.

Proposed amendments to our employment relations framework are outlined in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill that is currently before our Parliament.

Under the bill the right to seek flexible working arrangements will be extended to all employees.

The proposed changes in this bill also seek to make improvements to increase choice, flexibility and effectiveness in collective bargaining. These include removing barriers to costly and protracted negotiations where agreement is clearly never going to be reached, whilst retaining the obligation for parties to bargain in good faith.

We also propose a better balance in cases of strikes or lockouts by requiring advance notice and allowing partial pay reductions in cases of partial strike action. The bill also proposes changes so that employers in specific industries have greater certainty in restructuring situations involving the transfer of employees.

Our employment dispute resolution system will be improved under this proposed legislation so that decisions are delivered more speedily.

The legislation is at early stages and I have made it clear that I will carefully consider submissions from the public and stakeholders.

Decent Work also hinges on safe workplaces – people have the right to know that when they leave for work in the morning, they’ll be coming home safe and well in the evening. This is why we are in the process of making substantial changes to improve our culture, practice and enforcement of workplace health and safety.

This is a high priority for my Government and major focus for me personally as Minister of Labour.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry and an Independent Taskforce were established in the wake of the 2010 Pike River Coal Mine tragedy which killed 29 workers on the West Coast of New Zealand.

The Royal Commission identified a number of issues and areas for reform in the mining sector which we have committed to implement by the end of this year.

Among its recommendations, a new stand-alone health and safety agency will be in place in December, with a dedicated focus on delivering better health and safety outcomes. It will ensure frontline health and safety services are delivered quickly, actively, consistently and effectively.

In addition, a Government-appointed Independent Taskforce carried out the first major review of New Zealand’s workplace health and safety system in 20 years.

It recommended a package of measures to meet our goal of reducing fatalities and serious injuries by at least 25 percent by 2020. I am currently considering these important recommendations and will make public announcements on the way forward later this year.

All these initiatives are being carried out in difficult and challenging economic times. But we have not made change for change’s sake. Rather, we have implemented measures that support fairness and flexibility, promoting the conditions for business and job growth, and Decent Work, to flourish.

Kia ora. E noho rā (Thank you. Goodbye.)

Hon Simon Bridges thanks prominent New Zealanders working in International Agencies in Geneva.

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