Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway unveils start of 'progressive' programme for changes to workplace relations

Iain Lees-Galloway by Jacky Carpenter. © intererst.co.nz

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway has unveiled government plans he says are aimed at providing greater protections for workers, and strengthening workplace collective bargaining.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill amends the Employment Relations Act, which dates from 2000. Lees-Galloway describes it as an important step towards creating a high-performing economy that delivers good jobs, decent work conditions and fair wages.

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

Lees-Galloway says the Bill 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," he says. 

“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 Lees-Galloway.

Below is a summary of the Bill provided by the Government.

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 uniforms.
 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 member.
 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.

Here's a response from Business NZ.

Changed employment relations rules will mean increased compliance for employers but are reasonably pragmatic regarding pressures on small firms, says BusinessNZ. The Government plans to amend the Employment Relations Act to alter the rules around 90 day trials, unfair dismissals, meal and rest breaks, collective agreements and collective bargaining. 

BusinessNZ Chief Executive Kirk Hope said many of the changes related to collective agreements and bargaining procedures, which would mostly affect larger businesses. He said most larger businesses would be equipped to cope with the changes that reverse some bargaining and collective agreement rules introduced by the previous Government. 

Other changes more directly affected small business, he said. 

90-day trial periods 

Restricting the availability of 90 day trial periods to small businesses is a better outcome than removing them altogether, Mr Hope said. 

"Trial periods allow opportunities for an untried employee while reducing the ‘unfair dismissal’ risk to the employer of it not working out. This is a very real issue for small businesses. 

"This decision shows the Government has an understanding of the needs and pressures facing small businesses and has been willing to alter policy to reflect those needs." 

Unfair dismissals

At the same time, the Government has decided to change the rules around unfair dismissals, with reinstatement to again be the primary remedy to an unfair dismissal. "This will restore an onus on employer and employee to work positively together following a challenged dismissal process - perhaps a good discipline on both parties following an employment relations breakdown," Mr Hope said. 

Meal and rest breaks 

The current system - allowing employers and employees to mutually agree on when meal and rest breaks can be taken, depending on the needs of the business - will be changed to a system of statutory breaks with flexibility allowed only in essential services. 

"Business has appreciated the flexibility of the current system. Changing to a more regulated approach isn’t ideal for business agility, for example in manufacturing operations." 

Mr Hope said BusinessNZ was encouraged by the Government’s willingness to continue dialogue on the changes.

Here's a statement from Federated Farmers.

New employment legislation renews confidence around employing new staff 

Federated Farmers says new employment legislation will give farmers renewed confidence in employing staff with small businesses retaining the right to use a 90-day trial. The Government announced today that smaller businesses can continue to use the 90-day trial rule for new employees, with larger businesses (20 or more employees), bound by the provision for employees to lodge a personal grievance for unfair dismissals. 

Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers Employment Spokesperson, says the while the new Government had been clear about making changes to the current 90-day trial law, the change of heart was a welcome surprise. 

"It’s good to see Labour has listened to some of the concerns of the business community and consulted with their key coalition partner, New Zealand First. Winston [Peters] has made the pledge to look after farmers’ interests and we acknowledge his support. 

"The decision is especially good for small businesses. The vast majority of farming businesses are in this category and they will appreciate the rationale. 

"Many employ few staff but because of the small size of the business, they simply can’t afford the situation or inconvenience when new staff aren’t suited for the job or can’t fit in," says Chris. 

The number one concern for farmers regarding employment, especially in the dairy industry, is the lack of available, motivated staff. 

"Farmers need the confidence to take a chance on a potential employee who may have no demonstrated experience or who may have had previous social or addiction problems.

"Retaining the 90-day trial for small businesses gives the vast majority of farmers some assurance towards hiring future employees, " says Chris.

Here's what National Party workplace relations spokeswoman Amy Adams has to say. 

Employment changes will reduce job opportunities 

The Labour-led Government’s employment law changes announced today can only slow down New Zealand’s high-performing job market, National Party Workplace Relations Spokesperson Amy Adams says.

“These changes will only reduce job opportunities and wage growth, especially for those vulnerable workers on the edges of the labour market. They also mean workers will have less flexibility to get their job done,” Ms Adams says. 

“The law as it stands encourages all businesses, small and large, to grow their workforces and take a chance on new workers and long-term unemployed people. 

“While Labour have now partially backed down and allowed small businesses to continue with 90 day trials, they’ve still closed those trials off to the bigger businesses that take on many of these vulnerable workers. Those workers will have fewer opportunities. 

“If 90 day trials are okay for small businesses, then why shouldn’t they apply to larger businesses as well?” 

Ms Adams says that with New Zealand’s world-leading performance in job creation over the last few years, the onus was on the government to justify the need for the reforms. 

“Under current employment law New Zealand has added a mammoth 245,000 jobs in the last two years and has the third highest employment rate in the developed world. Nearly 80 per cent of New Zealand workers are in full-time jobs and wages have been growing at twice the rate of inflation. 

“These changes will only damage that track record. So why are they actually needed? 

“New Zealanders will rightly suspect they are a random union wish list. People will be asking exactly how much influence these unions have in the current Government. 

“These reforms will further damage business confidence and take New Zealand backwards. They will only disrupt New Zealand’s settled and successful employment law. 

“That’s not good news for jobs or wages for New Zealanders.

And here's First Union's take. 

Employment law changes: “a good first step” 

The government’s proposed changes to employment law are a good first step in restoring balance and fairness to the employment relation system, according to FIRST Union General Secretary Dennis Maga. 

“The fact that there are so many changes and most of the changes are reverting back to the original Employment Relations Act highlights the “death by a thousand cuts” approach of the previous National Government over the last 9 years,” said Maga. 

“We’re pleased with the role our union played in those nine dark years, helping make many of National’s regressive changes inoperable.” 

“For example when we publicly exposed Cotton On for attempting to withdraw tea and meal break provisions we put a halt on other companies doing the same,” said Maga. 

“We’ve also been able to keep 90 day trial provisions out of 98% of the Collective Agreements that we negotiate. We highlighted the absurdity of the partial strike penalties when St John and Bunnings tried to dock workers’ wages for wearing a non-standard tee shirt or removing a company apron.” 

“It’s disappointing that the current government doesn’t yet have the numbers to completely get rid of the 90-day trial provisions. However the removal of it in firms of 20-plus workers is a first step and we are sure that the proposed research will convince NZ First that the provision can be removed completely without any negative impact on small business.” 

“FIRST Union is also pleased with some of the new provisions, especially the requirement to include wages in a Collective Agreement. Our union has been battling with South Island Foodstuffs (and their Pak’nSave and New World stores) and Mitre 10 for some time to achieve this crucial right for our members,” said Maga. 

“FIRST Union will use the opportunity in the select committee process to present one or two more provisions that could be incorporated in the Bill to further restore balance and fairness in New Zealand’s employment relations system.”

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15 Comments

And counting down to the sudden emergence of multiple 19.9 FTE SME's out of the former 20+ businesses....3...2...1....

Companies website 'new registrations' might be a useful metric.....

Agreed. Massive loophole there

This is rather unbalanced, they are all pseudo employer groups and the opposition party associated with them.
Could we do better?

First Union's in there now too.

Good on you Gareth.

Sorry to see SME be fked hard after the change ...

http://www.mbie.govt.nz/info-services/business/business-growth-agenda/se...

How many of these jobs would have lasted past the 90 days anyway? How many 90 day trials started in early December and were ended in January?

I left my job to pursue a career in a different industry, was subject to a 90 day trial, turfed out in the 89th week because the business hadn’t grown enough. That’s despite the company in my opinion already at their peak market share, a niche supplier of product that you can pick up for 1/3rd price in Bunnings/Mega etc.

I was fortunate my previous employer contacted me to see how things were going and offered me my old role back.

"89th week", more than one and a half years?

Ah brain fade big time. The last week of the trial period.

Added 245,000 jobs in 2 years? 122,000 jobs per year from a net migration of around 72,000 per year leaves 50,000 extra jobs assuming every migrant works? Job seeker benefit numbers haven’t gone down, natural population increases are around 30k per year.

Plus the number of jobs which are not full or even part time work (where workers take up more than 1 of them). So taking just total number job & population stats without any correct analysis of actual new added workers into employment and workers leaving employment always leads to faulty assumptions.

Government and facts though?

Businesses do need the ability to weed out bad employees that make workplaces a toxic environment. Employees need some certainty that the 90-day trials won't be abused, especially if they've moved city or have a mortgage.

Wouldn't it make more sense to make the period a little shorter, and impose a penalty to for firing an employee (e.g. $100 + $20 for each day worked). It would make it unprofitable for businesses to churn through employees every 90 days, but they'd still be able to give people a chance and pull out the weeds.

I don't think Labour have thought this through. It's more of a headline grabber. I thought they had a bit more integrity than this.

Could it be that with the 90 day rule modification we now have half a horse. And in David Lange’s immortal words, you don’t have to think too hard about which half it is!

Businesses need to weed out poor employees...small ones in particular.

But wait...there is more..

Would it not make more sense for those who bring a Company down. to get their comeuppance.

I will use the term loosely.. "The Management" as per Fonterror ..for example, not get over paid to screw..UP...then end their contract with a golden handshake....even when tanking.

I could give many examples where millions are wasted, for little return...but then...some profit handsomely. for screwing up the population...like an Aussie Bank for example...or even all Politicians.

Thank god it is Friday,

Maybe we need a little humour...Have a beer and take Note....below.

Read on..

> Beer and the invention of the wheel
>
> The two most important events in all of history were the invention
> of beer and the invention of the wheel. Beer required grain
> and that was the beginning of agriculture.
>
>
> Neither the glass bottle nor aluminum can were invented yet, so while
> our early humans were sitting around waiting for them to be
> invented, they just stayed close to the brewery. That's how villages were formed.
>
>
> The wheel was invented to get man to the beer and vice versa These two
> were the foundation of modern civilization and together were
> the catalyst for the splitting of humanity into two distinct subgroups:
>
> 1. Liberals/ Labour. 2 Conservatives.
>
> Some men spent their days tracking and killing animals to BBQ at
> night while they were drinking beer. This was the beginning
> of what is known as the Conservative movement.
>
> Other men who were less skilled at hunting (called
> 'vegetarians' which was an early human word meaning
> 'bad hunter') learned to live off the Conservatives
> by showing up for the nightly BBQ's and doing the
> sewing, fetching, and hairdressing. This was the beginning
> of the labour/liberal movement.
>
> Some of these liberal men evolved into women. Others became known as
> girlie-men. Some noteworthy liberal achievements include the
> domestication of cats, the invention of group therapy, group
> hugs, and the concept of democratic voting to decide how to
> divide the meat and beer that Conservatives provided.
>
> Over the years Conservatives came to be symbolized by the largest,
> most powerful land animal on earth, the elephant .Liberals are symbolized by the jackass

for obvious reasons
>
> Modern Labour/Liberals like lite beer (with lime added), but most prefer
> white wine or imported bottled water. They eat raw fish but
> like their beef well done. Sushi, tofu, and French food are
> standard Labour/liberal fare. Another interesting evolutionary side
> note: many liberal & Labour women have higher testosterone levels
> than their men.
>
> Most college professors, social workers, personal injury
> attorneys, journalists, film makers in Hollywood , group
> therapists and community organizers are liberals or labour.. They
> meddled in our national pastime and invented the “no one is loser rule"
>
> Conservatives drink real beer. They eat red meat and
> still provide for their > women. Conservatives are members of the military, big game
> hunters, rodeo cowboys, lumberjacks, construction workers,
> firemen, medical doctors, police officers, engineers,
> corporate executives, athletes, airline pilots, and
> generally anyone who works productively. Conservatives who
> own companies hire other Conservatives who want to work for
> a living.
>
> Liberals & Labour produce little or nothing. They like to govern the producers
> and decide what to do with the production. Liberals believe
> Europeans are more enlightened than Americans. That is why
> most of the liberals remained in Europe when Conservatives
> were coming to America . They crept in after the Wild West
> was tamed and created a business of trying to get more for
> nothing.
>
> Here ends today's lesson in world history. It should be noted that
> a liberal & a labour supporter may have a momentary urge to angrily respond to
> this post.

> A Conservative will simply laugh and be so convinced of the
> absolute truth of this history that it will be shared
> immediately to other true believers and to just piss-off
> more liberal & Labour supporters.
>
> And there you have it. Let your next action reveal your true self,
> I'm going to grab a few beers and grill some steaks

Do have a super weekend...why work...be Happy.