What will the landscape of employment law look like post election?

With the election looming we thought we would take a quick look at what the political parties intend to put in place should they end up in power.

At present, the Green Party has a comprehensive workplace / industrial relations policy on their website and the Act Party has a couple of policies.

The Act Party’s policy stood out in that it would seek to decrease the minimum wage back to its pre-April 2020 level of $17.70 per hour. Whilst that might be beneficial to business owners, it would be hugely unpopular among many New Zealanders. The current adult minimum wage is $18.90 and according to the Employment New Zealand website, there were more than 240,000 people who had an increase in pay when this rate was put in place on 1 April 2020.

Act also intends to extend the provisions of 90-day trial periods into 12-month probationary periods available to employers of all sizes. Currently, 90 day-trial periods are only available to employers with less than 20 employees.

The Green Party takes a more employee-centric stance seeking progressive increases in the minimum wage and advocating for a ‘living wage’. It also proposes 13 months of parental leave paid at 100% of the average male wage.

The other point which stood out from the Green Party policy is that they would seek to establish a minimum statutory entitlement to redundancy compensation which would be legislated at four weeks pay for the first year employed and two weeks for each subsequent year. Currently, there is no provision for redundancy compensation in legislation and only people who have specific provision for it in their employment agreement have a right to it.

Unsurprisingly, Labour’s currently available workplace policies focus on supporting businesses through the COVID-19 crisis through wage subsidy support schemes, income relief payments and the creation of specific programmes to protect jobs in vulnerable sectors like sports, tourism and the arts.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, Labour reversed amendments to the Employment Relations Act made by the previous National government by reinstating prescribed rest and meal breaks, limiting the 90-day trial periods to business with fewer than 20 employees and strengthened the role of collective bargaining in the workplace.

With increases to the minimum wage, making it more accessible for equal pay claims to be made, increasing paid parental leave to 26 weeks and taking steps to ensure that employees in the core public services receive a living-wage, it is safe to assume Labour will continue down its traditional employee-centric approach.

National has recently announced its Small Business Policy which states that “National will simplify industrial relations legislation to reduce red tape and encourage businesses, in particular small businesses, to create new jobs”. As part of this, National says it will repeal the Government’s changes to the Employment Relations Act which would mean that businesses with more than 19 employees could make use of 90 day trial periods when employing new employees. It would also mean the Labour imposed mandatory rest and meal breaks would be overturned. Without providing specific details, the Small Business Policy also states that National would “simplify the employment dispute resolution process”.

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