Employment Law Changes Announced
by Bronwen Newcombe and Eleanor Gregan
The Employment Relations Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament on Monday 29 January 2018 by the New Zealand Government. These proposed changes set out in the draft bill are predominantly designed to benefit and protect employees in the workplace. We will keep you up to date with the draft bill’s progression through Parliament. Click here for the time-frame and information regarding the select committee process.
Once the proposed amendments are legislated, then employment agreements, policies, and procedures in the workplace should be updated to reflect the changes. We would also recommend that all executives and managers be trained to understand how the changes affect the workplace.
The proposed changes set out in the draft bill include:
Minimum rest and meal breaks:
The draft bill guarantees minimum standards of rest and meal breaks for employees. If enacted, this will replace the current rest and meal break laws, which do not set out specific employee entitlements. The draft bill identifies some exceptions to the minimum standard; if, as an employer, you would incur unreasonable cost in the replacement of an employee while they are on their rest and/or meal break, then you may be exempt. However, given the intention of the bill, it is likely that most workplaces will be caught by the amendment and will be required to put minimum standards in place.
The draft bill proposes to remove the 90-day Trial Period for New Zealand businesses that have 20 or more employees. This means that businesses with 19 or fewer employees will still have access to Trial Periods.
Use of probationary periods will still be available to all employers. Generally speaking, probationary periods allows employers to dismiss employees at the end of the specified probationary period, but requires the employer to identify a fair reason for doing so and communicate this reason to the dismissed employee. Probationary periods have historically been problematic and many employers who have sought to rely upon probationary periods have faced personal grievances from disgruntled employees. We would caution employers to only use probationary periods if employers are clear about the operation of the law and the process required to properly implement and execute the probationary period.
The proposed primary remedy available to employees who have been unfairly dismissed will be reinstatement to their former employment.
Vulnerable employees (for example, employees working in orderly, cleaning, food catering or laundry positions) will be provided further protection in the workplace. These protections include guaranteed pay and the continuation of their current working conditions if their employer changes. If an employer operates a business with vulnerable employees, we strongly recommend getting in touch with our employment team as your obligations are more onerous than others.
The draft bill proposes changes to collective agreement requirements to ensure they are fairer to all parties. The draft bill proposes to reinstate the 30-day rule, whereby all new employees must be employees on consistent terms with the collective agreement for the first 30 days of their employment, to include pay rates in the agreements, and to reinstate the union’s ability to initiate early discussions with the employer.
If you would like more information about the impact these proposed changes might have on your business as an employer, or your rights as an employee, then please feel free to contact our employment team on email, firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com or phone us on 09 915 4380.