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Employment Relations Amendment Bill

The first wave of changes to legislation in the employment arena were announced last week. There was nothing unexpected, except for possibly the usefulness of NZ First to act as a hand brake for more widespread changes.

One of Labour’s flagship policies was the abolition of the 90 day trial period. The great news for SME’s is that if you have 19 or less employees, the trial period will still be available to you. An unexpected turn of events and a moved that has disappointed unions. Unions however did get a number of changes they were seeking.

The purpose of this Bill is to implement the Government’s post-election commitments to restore key minimum standards and protections for employees, and a suite of changes to promote and strengthen collective bargaining and union rights in the workplace. Read here a summary of the changes, and over the next few weeks we will detail how the changes may affect how you operate your business.

Proposed Amendments

Restoring Key Minimum Standards and Protections for Employees
  • Removing the exemption for employers with fewer than 20 employees from the current rules about business transfers, which will allow vulnerable workers of these employers to elect to transfer to an incoming employer
  • Extending the time frame for vulnerable workers to elect to transfer to an incoming employer and placing information and notification requirements on employers in respect of their employees’ personal information
  • Reinstating the right to prescribed rest and meal breaks, as applied previously regarding number and length of breaks within specified work time, with limited exceptions for essential services where certain conditions exist
  • Restoring reinstatement as the primary remedy in unjustified dismissal cases, where the employee requests it and where reinstatement is practicable and reasonable
  • Limiting trial periods to employers with fewer than 20 employees
Collective Bargaining and Unions

The proposed amendments include:

  • Removing the requirement for a union representative to gain consent from an employer before entering a workplace
  • Requiring employers to allow union delegates reasonable time during working hours to perform their duties in respect of the employees of that employer.
  • Reinstating that the parties are required to conclude a collective agreement, and repealing the provisions that enable the ERA can determine that bargaining has concluded
  • Reinstating the ability of unions to initiate collective bargaining 20 days before an employer
  • Repealing sections 44A to 44C that allow employers to opt out of multi-employer collective bargaining once bargaining has been initiated
  • Requiring that collective agreements must contain rates of pay and that rates of pay must be agreed during collective bargaining
  • Repealing the ability of employers to deduct pay as a response to partial strikes
  • Requiring that new employees are afforded the same terms and conditions as the applicable collective agreement relating to their work for the first 30 days of employment
  • Restoring key minimum standards and protections for employees
  • Requiring employers to provide the applicable collective agreement and union contact details and the option to join the union at the same time as they provide an intended individual employment agreement to an employee
  • Requiring that employers provide information about the role and functions of the applicable union when the intended employment agreement is given to prospective employees
  • Encouraging an active choice by a new employee on whether to join the union, and whether to object to the employee’s employer providing the employee’s name and notice of the employee’s choice to the relevant union
  • Extending the grounds for discrimination to include an employee’s union membership
  • Extending the time frame under section 107 for which an employee’s union activities may be considered to contribute to an employer’s discriminatory behaviour from 12 months to 18 months

Cafe Deducted Pay for Breaks Worker Was Never Allowed to Take

Natalie Cornelius was employed as a crew member in a café in Napier. She became concerned by her employer’s practice of deducting 30 minutes wages from her pay each day. This was allegedly to cover breaks which she is adamant she was never allowed to take.

Ms Cornelius tried to raise her concerns in writing and verbally however she says her employer inevitably reacted in a rude and belligerent manner and failed to address her concerns. Things got to a point where Ms Cornelius felt she had no choice but to resign.

Ms Cornelius subsequently raised a claim of unjustified dismissal, albeit constructively, by her employer, HPG Private Ltd (HPG). The claim was heard in the Employment Relations Authority in May 2016 where Authority Member Loftus agreed with Ms Cornelius that she had been constructively dismissed and awarded her the sum of $4,000 as compensation for hurt and humiliation.

In regards to the 30 minute deductions from Ms Cornelius’s pay each day for her breaks that she said were not taken, Member Loftus accepted Ms Cornelius’s calculations and awarded her $2,080. In all Ms Cornelius was awarded a total of nearly $12,000 for lost wages, inappropriate pay deductions, hurt and humiliation, plus costs.

Under recent changes to the Employment Relations Act, the duration and time of breaks is no longer strictly regulated. In the past, stringent rules governed how long rest and meal breaks had to be, and when they had to be given. For example, one 10-minute paid rest break during a work period of between 2 hours and 4 hours; one 10-minute paid rest break and one 30-minute meal break (unpaid unless agreed otherwise) during a work period of between 4 hours and 6 hours and so on. Now there are no specific rules for how long, or when, rest and meal breaks should be.

Employers and employees should bargain in good faith over the timing and length of breaks. All employers are required to provide employees with rest and meal breaks which give employees a reasonable chance during their work period to rest, refresh and take care of personal matters.

Under this legislation, some employers may be exempt from giving breaks. For example when employees agree to reasonable compensation in exchange for breaks, or where the employer cannot reasonably give the employee rest and meal breaks because the workplace environment or position make it impractical (for example, emergency medical staff, a sole charge customer service position, etc). However, the employer will always be required to compensate the employee if this situation arises. Compensation could be alternative time off equivalent to the missed break (i.e. finishing 15 minutes earlier but being paid until the end of the shift), or extra remuneration.