Wilkinson's exit gives chance for minister with drive
In a portfolio requiring a certain political robustness, Kate Wilkinson always looked out of her depth as Minister of Labour.
Today’s resignation, which has been hung on the Pike River inquiry, is probably not a bad thing overall for the John Key-led government, depending on who picks up the role now.
Ms Wilkinson stays in the cabinet, holds her 16th ranked position and hangs on to the conservation and food safety portfolios.
So she is not really giving up anything by resigning – the main thing she is sacrificing is a tough job.
Chris Finlayson is acting Minister of Labour and could certainly do the job, but the government might do well to keep it away from the legal profession.
For that has been seen as Ms Wilkinson’s problem in the role. There have been some behind-the-scenes mutterings about her decision-making ability in the job and what is seen as a certain lack of political drive.
While the Minister of Labour is not the high-profile portfolio it was in the days when wages awards and strike settlements were hammered out over late-night meetings in the Beehive, labour market rules are still one of the largest points of difference in politics.
Ms Wilkinson has tended to bring a lawyer's approach the role, something which initially was seen as a plus but as time wore on has turned more into a minus.
That is not to say her time has not been without achievement. Getting the three-month trial period law through, her technocratic rather than political approach helped defuse some of the political sting.
More recently, though, the legalistic approach has drawn fire as it has caused issues to stagnate when they needed speedily resolution.
Business has also been frustrated at the pace of promised labour reform.
That was heightened last week when Ms Wilkinson’s long-awaited tweaks to Part 6A of the Employment Relations Act, concerning “vulnerable worker” provisions, were seen as a gutless move by the government and having taken far to long to emerge from the minister's office.
Although small businesses with less than 20 staff were unshackled from the messy Part 6A provisions, business groups felt large businesses should have also been made exempt from legal obligations to take on any existing staff or meet their entitlements if they are taking over a business or service contract.
Better still, the complex provisions should have been repealed in their entirety, Employers and Manufacturers Association boss Kim Campbell said.