Posted on: Jan 30, 2018

The Government introduced a new Bill on 25 January 2018 which intends to amend the Employment Relations Act 2000 with the aim of providing greater protection for employees and workers. The Government believes there is a need to restore fairness and balance into New Zealand workplaces. The changes are as expected and include restrictions imposed on the use of the trial period by businesses employing more than 20 employees, and among other things, restoring statutory rest and meal breaks.

To read the full Government announcement click here. A summary of the key changes proposed in the Bill are provided below.

Rights for employees

  • Restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks. These will be subject to a very limited exception for workers in essential services who cannot be replaced (such as air traffic controllers). We note that currently, while an employee’s entitlement to rest and meal breaks may be restricted in certain circumstances, the employee must be provided with reasonable compensatory measures.  Employers will no longer be able to rely on the flexibility of breaks to allow for business continuity.
  • Restriction of 90 day trial periods to SME employers (less than 20 employees). Businesses with 20 or more employees will no longer be allowed to use the grievance free trial period. This change would revert the legislation back to when it was first introduced on 1 March 2009.  If a business with more than 20 plus employees wanted to test the suitability of a new candidate, they would only be able to use a probationary period.
  • Reinstatement will be restored as the primary remedy for unfair dismissal (as it was prior to 1 April 2011). This was infrequently used but recognises that in some circumstances the best outcome is for the employee to return to work.
  • Further protections for employees in the “vulnerable industries” (Part 6A). These changes repeal the SME exemption from coverage (inserted on 6 March 2015), provide more time for employees to decide whether to transfer to a new employer, and provide greater safeguards on transfer of inaccurate information.

Collective bargaining and union rights

Roll-backs to earlier legislation:

  • Restoration of the duty to conclude bargaining unless there is a good reason not to.
  • Restoration of the earlier initiation timeframes for unions in collective bargaining.
  • Removal of the MECA opt out where employers can refuse to bargain for a multi-employer collective agreement.
  • Restoration of the 30 day rule where for the first 30 days new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement.
  • Repeal of partial strike pay deductions where employers can garnish wages for low level industrial action.
  • Restoration of union access without prior employer consent. Union access will still be subject to requirements to access at reasonable times, and places having regarding to business continuity, health and safety.

New proposals:

  • A requirement to include pay rates in collective agreements.
  • A requirement for employers to provide reasonable paid time for union delegates to represent other workers.
  • A requirement for employers to pass on information about unions in the workplace to prospective employees along with a form for the employee to indicate whether they want to be a member.
  • Greater protections against discrimination for union members including an extension of the 12 month threshold to 18 months relating to discrimination based on union activities and new protections against discrimination on the basis of being a union member.

For a detailed summary of the bill, click here.

What does this mean for you?

At this stage, the proposed changes have been introduced to Parliament and the Bill is in its First Reading.  The Bill will not come into effect until passed into legislation, however, it will be open for public submissions prior to that.

For more information on the proposed changes and the impact of these on your workplace please get in touch with one of our team.



Disclaimer

This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.