Workplace legislation announced

Labour had promised workplace legislation in Taking action in our first 100 days:

  • Increase the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour, to take effect from 1 April 2018, and introduce legislation to improve fairness in the workplace.

They have made some changes to publicised policy on the 90 day after negotiations with NZ First, and have now announced their legislative plans. Some of these changes undo changes brought in by the previous government.

Legislation for fairer workplaces announced

The Government has taken an important step toward creating a high-performing economy that delivers good jobs, decent work conditions and fair wages with a new Bill to amend the Employment Relations Act 2000, says Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

The Bill is designed to provide greater protections to workers, especially vulnerable workers, and strengthen the role of collective bargaining in the workplace to ensure fair wages and conditions.

“Making life better for working New Zealanders is a fundamental value for the Labour-led Government,” says Mr Lees-Galloway.

“Too many working New Zealanders are missing out on the benefits of economic growth under the current employment relations system.

“Good employment law strikes a balance between employers and workers. Under the previous Government the balance tipped away from fair working conditions for workers. We will restore that balance.

“Many of the changes in the Bill are focused on lifting wages through collective bargaining.  Wages are too low for many families to afford the basics. This Government believes everyone deserves a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

“We will also reinstate key minimum standards and protections to employees, such as the right to prescribed meal and rest breaks and limiting the use of 90 day trial periods to businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

“This legislation is the first step in the Government’s commitment to creating a highly skilled and innovative economy that provides good jobs, decent work conditions, and fair wages.

“This is the start of a progressive programme in workplace relations which includes the passing of historic Equal Pay legislation, lifting the minimum wage to $20 by 1 April 2021, and the creation of a framework for Fair Pay Agreements.

“The legislation is expected to have its first reading in early February and I encourage everyone interested in this important legislation to have their say at the select committee process,” says Mr Lees-Galloway.

Employment Relations Amendment Bill – Summary

Rights for employees

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

  • Restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks. These will be subject to a very limited exception
    for workers in essential services who cannot be replaced (such as air traffic controllers).
  • Restriction of 90 day trial periods to SME employers (less than 20 employees). This balances the
    insecurity of 90 day trials to workers against keeping barriers to hiring low for small businesses.
  • Reinstatement will be restored as the primary remedy to unfair dismissal. This was
    infrequently used but recognises that in some circumstances the best outcome is for the employee to
    return to 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 these modifications are roll-backs 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.
  • Restoration of the 30 day rule where for the first 30 days new employees must be employed under
    terms consistent with the collective agreement.
  • Repeal of partial strike pay deductions where employers can garnish wages for low level
    industrial action. Employers have deducted pay for actions such as wearing t-shirts instead of
  • Restoration of union access without prior employer consent. Union access will still be subject
    to requirements to access at reasonable times, and places 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 or 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 requirement for employers to pass on information about unions in the workplace to
    prospective employees along with a form for the employee to indicate whether they want to be a
  • Greater protections against discrimination for union members 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.
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