6. Salvoes concerned with employment bill

Labour Minister Aupito William Sio criticised the Salvation Army's submission. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

The Salvation Army is wary of law changes that would allow union delegates unfettered access to some of their most sensitive work areas.

The charity was amongst submitters speaking in front of the Education and Workforce Select Committee, which is considering the Government's Employment Relations Amendment Bill.

During the past few months, the committee has heard submissions from a raft of organisations either concerned about the detrimental impact of the proposed changes or complaining that they don't go far enough.

The legislation makes a number of changes including restricting 90-day trials to employers with less than 20 staff, the restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks and the strengthening of collective bargaining and union rights.

It is an aspect of the latter that most concerns the Salvation Army.

Under current legislation, unions and employers must agree on a day and time for visits to occur. The Salvation Army says it is concerned the new law could allow union delegates to enter the workplace unannounced.

Bruce Wall, the Salvation Army’s human resources manager, said this could be problematic and even lead to the charity breaching the law.

There was no issue with unions accessing the workplace and the army had a good relationship with all three unions that its staff were members of, Wall said.

But he said the army had a number of sensitive areas, including early childhood centres, eviction services, hospices and drug and alcohol treatment services where it dealt with vulnerable people.

“Hospice is a particular example, it’s prone to people who are at a very vulnerable time of their lives … we are concerned for the potential if this bill went through that the organisers could arrive unannounced and wander through hospices looking for staff.”

There were strict rules for staff working in early childhood education such as police vetting and there were concerns about unknown people coming in without those checks, Wall said.

The army’s submission drew a sharp response from Pacific Peoples Minister Aupito William Sio, who is also MP for Mangare.

He said he was flummoxed by the army’s position, which he said went against its focus on fundamental human rights.

“I just struggle to sort of align the work of the Salvation Army, the provision or focus on fundamental basic human rights, food, shelter and health, and your submission this morning which [is] therefore we oppose this provision, we will oppose the passing of this provision. To me it doesn’t seem to align.

“Instead of you submitting that we have a practice that’s currently working your submission basically says you're opposing those fundamental clauses.”

Sio’s comments were met with a terse rebuke from National MP Scott Simpson who said a select committee was not the place for political speeches, while Wall responded that there was no opposition to unions at all.

“I don’t think there’s an issue about us opposing them coming in. Our issue is about the sensitivity of the services we provide and the practical difficulty it places on us and potentially breaches some legislative requirements.”