It’s Out – Employment Relations Amendment Bill

The New Zealand Government has released it’s plans for reform of the employment laws. A summary of the areas where changes will be happening is attached.

The draft legislation is expected to have its first reading in early February.

The minister announced that this legislation is the start of a programme of reform in workplace relations which included lifting the minimum wage to $20 per hour by March 4th 2021 and the creation of a framework for Fair Pay Agreements.

Rights for employees

These modifications are largely roll-backs of the previous Government’s changes which weakened employees’ rights work:

  • Restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks. There will be subject to a Very limited exception for workers in essential services who cannot be replaced(such as air traffic controller).
  • Restriction of 90 day trial period to SME employers (less than 20 employees). This balances the infrequently used but recognizes that is some circumstances the best outcome in for the employees to return work.
  • Further protections for employees in the “vulnerable industries”(Part 6A). These changes repeal the SME exemption from coverage, 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

Most of this modification are roll-back of the previous Government’s changes:

  • Restoration of the duty to conclude bargaining unless there is a good reason not to. This is complemented by repeal of the process to have bargaining declared over.
  • 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.
  • Repeal of partial strike pay deduction where employers can garnish wages for low level industrial icon action. Employers have deducted pay for action such as wearing t-shirt instead of uniforms.
  • Restoration of union access without prior employer consent. Union access will still be subject to requirements to access at reasonable times, and place having regarding to business continuity health and safety

New proposals are:

A requirement to include pay rates in collective agreements. This is based on recent case law. pay rates may include pay ranges of methods of calculation.

A requirement for employers to provide reasonable paid time for union delegates to represent other workers(for example in collective bargaining).

A requirements for employers to pass on information about unions in the workplace to prospective employees along with a form for the employees to indicate whether they want to be a member.

Greater protections against discrimination for union member 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.