After much anticipation, changes to employment law are set to progress after the Select Committee recently released its report on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill.
By a majority, the Education and Workforce Committee recommended in its report that the Bill be passed subject to a number of amendments.
The Bill has attracted significant public interest, including close to 500 submissions after its first reading in February 2018.
Five months after the close of submissions, the Committee has recommended the following amendments to the Bill:
Specifying that union delegates are entitled to be paid at the same rate when performing union activities as when performing their ordinary employment duties;
Clarifying how an employer’s obligation to provide information to new employees, and about the union’s related role and function, would work in practice;
Specifying that collective agreements must include at least the minimum rates for the work or types of work done by employees, for named employees, or types of employees, and must indicate how rates could increase during the term of agreement;
Confirming that the “30-day rule” does not prevent negotiation of more favourable terms and conditions than those included in the collective agreement during the first 30 days of employment;
Defining small-to-medium-sized employers in the context of trial periods - employers with fewer than 20 employees at the beginning of the day on which a relevant employment agreement is entered;
Specifying that employers engaged in the protection of New Zealand’s national security (in addition to employers in the essential services) may be exempt from prescribed rest and meal break requirements;
Clarifying how financial compensation should be calculated when it is offered to employees unable to take rest and meal breaks that are paid variable rates (such as piece rates);
Allowing the Minister to recommend that the Governor-General add, delete or amend the categories of work protected from restructuring;
Inserting the definition of wages, so that wages includes the amounts payable for time, piece work, or by way of commission (whether wholly or in part); and
Specifying that minor or technical errors will not invalidate strike notices.
The National Party (which held the minority view of the Committee) strongly opposes both the ideological basis of the Bill and the specific legislative changes that are proposed. In particular, it considers the Bill will destabilise the New Zealand industrial relations landscape. The National Party gave notice that a future National-led Government would repeal the recommended amendments to the Bill.
The Bill is one of several legislative changes proposed by the Labour Government to restore key minimum standards and protections for employees, as well as strengthen collective bargaining and increase union membership. The key proposals under the Bill include:
Removing the use of 90-day trial periods from businesses with 20 or more employees;
Restoring statutory rest and meal breaks, unless a employee falls under an exemption (for example, air traffic controllers);
Making reinstatement the primary remedy where an employee has successfully raised an unjustified dismissal claim;
Affording greater protection to "vulnerable employees" who are subject to a restructure or change in employer; and
Strengthening the collective bargaining framework and the rights of unions and union members in the workplace.
You can find the Select Committee report here, and our previous publication on the Bill here.
These proposed changes are set to shake the employment landscape and require employers to review their businesses to ensure they align with upcoming legislation. We invite you or your business to work with us as the Bill progresses.
If you or your business has any questions regarding the Committee report, and the steps that could be taken going forward, please contact one of our employment and workplace safety team or your usual Bell Gully adviser.
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.