This article was published on 16 April 2020 and represents the legal position on this date. Due to ongoing developments, this guidance may no longer represent the correct position as of today. If you would like assistance on the below matter please get in touch with the contacts listed or your usual Bell Gully adviser.
Today, an Order in Council came into force under the Epidemic Preparedness Act 2006. This Order makes changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA), and specifically the provisions dealing with timeframes for the initiation of bargaining and the expiration of collective agreements currently in force.
In short, while the COVID-19 Epidemic Notice is in force, various collective bargaining timeframes are extended to account for the fact that many businesses are currently suspended by the restrictions. Additionally, if any agreement was due to be ratified, but that has now been rendered impractical, the union may give notice of alternative means.
These changes will remain in force until three months after the Epidemic Notice expires or is revoked, and are summarised in the table below:
When an employer initiates or receives notice initiating bargaining, it must draw the attention of such to all employees whose work would be covered within 10 days of initiation (or 15 days if there are to be multiple employers).
If an employer intends to initiate bargaining, or receives notice of such, the timeframe for bringing it to the attention of affected employees is extended by the number of days the Epidemic Notice is in force.
When an employer receives multiple notices from different unions that relate to the same type of work, it has 40 days from the date that the first notice is received to request consolidation of bargaining. The unions must respond within 30 days of the employer's request.
The timeframes for the employer's ability to seek consolidation, and the unions' requirement to respond, are extended by the number of days the Epidemic Notice is in force.
A union must not sign a collective agreement or variation unless it has been ratified in accordance with the agreed procedure (which was set at the beginning of bargaining).
If the previous procedure required ratification by means that are no longer practicable (e.g. signing in person), the union may notify of a new ratification procedure (e.g. video conference).
A collective agreement that has expired may continue in force for up to 12 months while bargaining is ongoing.
If a collective agreement has expired, the 12-month period for which it will continue to be in force is automatically extended by the number of days the Epidemic Notice is in force.
If you have any questions about the matters raised in this article, please get in touch with the contacts listed, or your usual Bell Gully adviser.
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This publication is necessarily brief and general in nature. You should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this publication.