Labour unveils employment policy

Labour Party leader Andrew Little will be hoping a boost to the minimum wage will appeal to its voting base. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

Labour's slow roll-out of election policies has continued, with a pledge to raise the minimum wage at the centre of its employment plan.

Worker's rights have always been at the heart of the Labour party, linked to its close association with unions.

Unveiling the party's employment policy on Thursday, leader Andrew Little announced he would boost the minimum wage to $16.50 if elected and base future increases on the real cost of living for people on low incomes.

The plan was for the minimum wage to eventually rise to two-thirds of the average wage, Little said.

All core public sector employees would also receive the living wage, at a cost of $15 million, while labour inspector numbers would be doubled to 110 at a cost of $9m.

In the wake of a $2 billion equal pay settlement by the current government for the aged care sector, Labour would introduce Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs) within industries.

This would involve negotiations between businesses and unions to agree basic standards for pay and other employment conditions, according to factors such as job type and experience.

Little said this would prevent a "race to the bottom" where good employers were undercut by bad employers who reduce labour costs through low wages and poor conditions.

"As in Australia, employers and employees creating a floor together will help to boost wages and create a more productive economy."

In perhaps the most non-Labour-like announcement, Little reaffirmed plans to continue with the 90-day trial period.

Introduced by National, the policy was decried for years by Labour and the unions as unfair.

But in 2015 Little changed tack, refusing to say he would scrap the scheme.

Now he has confirmed the scheme would stay if Labour wins the election.

It would, however, introduce a new referee service for claims of unjustifiable dismissal during trial periods, at a cost of $4m, to reduce what Little called the "fire at will" behaviour of some employers.

This would involve a referee holding short hearings without lawyers, with the power to reinstate or award damages.

"Most employers use trial periods fairly but National's fire at will law has encouraged abuse by a small number of employers," Little said.

Newsroom Pro will have a more detailed analysis of the policy later today.