Buckle up! 2018 is going to be year of upheaval for labour laws

The Government has announced the first round of changes to New Zealand’s employment relations legislation.

Labour campaigned from the outset to scrap the “fire at will” 90-day trial period legislation.  Thanks to Winston Peters however, the Government will now allow the use of the trial periods for businesses with less than 20 employees.  This is welcome news to small businesses, of which 97% of New Zealand’s businesses having 19 employees or less.  It is worth noting that these businesses only employ 29% of employees in New Zealand however, so the effect will still be widely felt.

All remaining employers will still be able to use “probationary” periods, which unlike 90-day trial periods, do allow unjustified dismissal claims and require employers to give reasons for termination of an employee’s employment.   The same rules apply as terminating under normal circumstances, which arguably make probationary periods somewhat redundant.

There have been no huge surprises in the remaining changes which reflect Labour’s pre election promises. These changes mostly roll back laws brought in by the previous National government and are centred on the re-enforcement of unions and restoration of union delegate rights.

Major roll backs include:

  • Restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks which were curtailed in 2015;
  • Reinstatement restored as the primary remedy for unfair dismissal claims;
  • Further protections for employees in “vulnerable industries”;
  • Restoration of the duty to conclude bargaining unless there is a good reason not to;
  • Reinstatement 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 the relevant collective agreement;
  • Repeal of partial strike pay deductions; and
  • Restoration of union access without prior employer consent, as long as access is at a reasonable time and does not affect business continuity or health and safety.

New proposals are:

  • 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 provide on information about unions in the workplace to prospective employees; and
  • Greater protections against discrimination for union members.

The legislation will be introduced to Parliament on Monday 29 January 2018 and will have its first reading on Thursday 1 February 2018.  Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has indicated that these are the first of further changes to employment laws that will come in the future.  We note that fair pay agreements are still on its agenda for 2018.

Note that these changes are still in Bill form and will need to be passed by Parliament to become law. There will be opportunities for interest groups to make submissions.

Lane Neave will host seminars across the country to discuss these changes and how they will affect your workplace.  In the interim, please do not hesitate to contact the employment team at Lane Neave to discuss any of these changes.

Fair Trading February

Launching in February 2018, ‘Fair Trading February’ is an innovative project aimed at helping businesses to comply with two of New Zealand’s most important sales and marketing laws – the Fair Trading Act and the Commerce Act.

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