Unions urge Ardern to move on IR reform

By AAP Newswire

The leader of New Zealand's union movement is urging Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to get on with industrial reforms, warning that she risks falling short on an election promise.

Richard Wagstaff will be re-elected president of the NZ Council of Trade Unions at the peak body's biennial conference on Tuesday.

He has put two issues at the top of his agenda: gender equity and the introduction of Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs), which are similar to Australian employment awards.

While heartened by progress to close the wage gap, Wagstaff is yet to see action on FPAs.

Three employment groups have been earmarked for FPAs: cleaners, security and retail workers.

The Labour-led coalition's working group, chaired by former National prime minister Jim Bolger, tabled its report into the reintroduction of a bargaining system last year.

Unions believe it's been gathering dust.

On Monday, the NZCTU released another report in favour of FPAs, adding a message to Ardern that "we need to get on with it".

"The prime minister talked about being two down by the time of the election. That's looking like an unrealistic target now and when she announced that it sounded modest," he told AAP.

"We do understand that things can't happen overnight. But we do need to get some runs on the board.

"We have a very strong relationship with the government. We have a high regard for the PM and we really like her values of wellness. They're great.

"We just need to get some concrete stuff done."

The delay has caused concerns within the union movement that their concerns may have slipped down Ardern's pecking order.

Ardern said the go-slow could be attributed to "being consultative".

"Our goal with legislation like this and a process like this, is that the changes that we make, we want them to be long lasting. That means building as much consensus as we can," she said.

The prime minister will have a chance to address the conference on Tuesday afternoon, when Wagstaff would like her to assuage union concerns.

"I would like her to confirm that she understands our agenda is central to the government's agenda too," he said.

"That better work, better support for unions is part of her plan for a better New Zealand."

The theme of the 2019 NZCTU conference is Getting Our Fair Share.

"We want to raise people's consciousness and understanding about the inherent unfairness in the economy and and debate about workers rights," Wagstaff continued.

"When we say 'getting our fair share', yes, that is the economy in dollars and cents terms. We're also talking about our fair share of time, our fair share of influence in board rooms."