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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

Modernising Parental Leave

The Employment Standards Legislation Bill which came into effect on 1 April 2016 brings some changes to Parental Leave, including:

  • Parental leave payment period extended to 18 weeks
  • Parental leave payment extended to non-standard workers and those who have recently changed jobs
  • Entitlements extended to a wider range of permanent arrangement carers with primary responsibility of a child under 6 years
  • Unpaid leave can be taken flexibly within the first year
  • Introducing “Keeping in Touch” hours of work – for example to do training, hand overs and ease back into work
  • Extending unpaid leave to workers who have been with their employer for more than six months but less than 12
  • Allowing workers to resign and still receive payments
  • Increasing penalties for fraud
  • Providing additional parental leave payments for parents of preterm babies

Some of the above requires certain eligibility criteria be met and some are by mutual agreement with the Employer, so it pays to communicate your plans. To read more about the changes and to find out the details about leave entitlements and criteria visit one of these sites:

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

IRD