Five workplace changes coming into effect

There are five changes to workplace laws that come into effect from either tomorrow, 1 April, or from 6 May.

 1. Minimum wage increase

The minimum wage will increase to $17.70 per hour.

This follows an increase last year from $15.75 to $16.50, and is part of a Government plan to bump the rates up as per the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement to $20 per hour which is planned to take effect 1 April 2021.

The Starting-out and Training rates are fixed at 80% of the Minimum Wage so will increase to $14.16.

There are some exceptions (employees under 16 and others) – see Current minimum wage rates

2. Reinstatement of set meal and rest breaks

Rest and meal break rules will be introduced from 6 May 2019. There is a return to more regulation about the timing, frequency and duration of breaks. “Employers and employees will need to mutually agree when breaks are to be taken. This agreement could be outlined in the employment contract, in a roster or in another system.”

“If there is no agreement set out, the law will require the breaks to be in the middle of the work period, so long as it’s reasonable and practicable to do so. Employers must pay for minimum rest breaks but don’t have to pay for minimum meal breaks.”

It’s also important to remember an employee must be given their entitled breaks; “Breaks cannot be exchanged for extra pay or time in lieu.”

 3. Limiting of 90-day trials to businesses with fewer than 20 employees

From 6 May 2019, 90-day trial periods will be restricted to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. “If you want to use a 90 day trial period for a new employee, it remains crucial that, before starting work for you, the employee has signed an employment agreement containing such a clause.”

Larger businesses with 20 or more employees will no longer be able to use 90 day trial periods.  However, they may continue to use probationary periods to assess an employee’s skills against the role’s responsibilities.

 4. Leave entitlements and protections for victims of domestic violence

From 1 April 2019, victims affected by domestic violence will have the right to request a short-term (up to two months) variation of their working arrangements. This could include variation to days and hours of work, place of work, and duties. Requests can only be refused by an employer on certain grounds.

“If you receive a request in writing, you must respond to it within ten working days.  If you wish to request proof of the issue (such as a medical certificate, court order or police report), you must ask for this within three working days of receiving the request.”

An employee who has been working for you for more than six months will also be entitled to ten paid days leave to deal with effects of domestic violence on themselves or a child. “If you are in any doubt about how to respond to an employee, please seek appropriate workplace specialist advice without delay.”

 5. Strengthened collective bargaining and union rights

The 30-day rule will come back from 6 May 2019. This means that for the first 30 days, new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement. The employer and employee may however agree more favourable terms than the collective.

Union representatives also have the right to enter workplaces without consent, provided the employees are covered under, or bargaining towards, a collective agreement.

“Union representatives can only enter your workplace for certain purposes, must be respectful of normal operating hours, and follow health, safety and security procedures. Where no collective agreement or bargaining exists, union representatives still need to seek consent before entering your workplace.”

Source: Ashlea Maley, Senior Workplace Consultant at Employsure