Monday, 12 September 2016

How critical is lobbying and advocacy?

The organisation that I am proud to lead, the Canterbury Employers’ Chamber of Commerce (the Chamber), plays a vital role in lobbying and advocating for businesses to be able to operate in a supportive environment. This is one of the critical functions of the Chamber ably assisted by its affiliations with the New Zealand Chambers of Commerce and Industry (NZCCI) and BusinessNZ.

The lobbying role often goes unnoticed and is sometimes taken for granted. However, if we did not have business support agencies such as the Chamber and its associated entities there would be no coordinated voice for business and we would be on the receiving end of rules and regulations that would work actively against the ability for businesses to operate.

The Chamber for many years has been lobbying and advocating for sensible employment legislation, realistic health and safety laws, the sustainable use of water in our region, simple and transparent tax regimes, and issues around energy usage and climate change both directly and through our other relationships. For example, BusinessNZ is currently advocating on the issues of taxation of employee share schemes, competition law, Holidays Act problems, anti-dumping legislation and has recently, together with the Chamber, been advocating against the Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill.

The Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill known as the Contractor Bill was a potential piece of legislation promoted through a Private Members’ Bill that had the ability to blur the difference between a contracting relationship and an employment relationship. Contracting relationships and employment relationships are both legitimate forms of utilising labour. In late August, there was a real possibility that the Contractor Bill would become law and create a massive amount of confusion for the business community at large. Despite the fact that BusinessNZ, which is partially funded by the Chamber, opposed the bill as far as back as September 2015, it had reached the stage that it had a majority of political support to be passed by Parliament. That would have resulted in a bill that was impracticable, uneconomic and breached basic legal principles.

The Private Members’ Bill was put forward by the Labour Party and supported by the Greens, New Zealand First and Maori Party. It was also originally supported by the MP, Peter Dunn. The combined voting power of that group would have given it sufficient votes to be passed through Parliament.

The business community through business support agencies such as the Chamber made it clear that the bill was poorly drafted and would result in confusing the employment contracting interface. It was obvious that it would cause significant damage across the contracting sector. We went on to assert that contracting is a legitimate method of providing services and the bill attempted to draw more closely together the contracting and employment relationships. We maintained that if passed it would result in confusion and be impossible to regulate. We insisted the bill needed to be dropped to avoid a wide range of destructive unintended consequences and that we could do much better for our employment and contracting communities.

Our view was shared by business support agencies across the country who lobbied hard to ensure that the bill did not become law. As a direct result of that intense lobbying the voting shifted to the extent that the Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill was defeated by one vote in Parliament in late August.

This is just one example of the importance of lobbying and it is great to see how effective we can be if we work together in the interests of business and the wider community. Good legislation is critical; poor legislation can be incredibly destructive. The Chamber is a strong advocate of transparent mutually beneficial, high quality, employment and contracting relationships. We strongly oppose poor legislation that would undermine either or both relationships.

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