.With the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, the Government has today announced the first proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act which gives effect to pre-election promises.

We’re pleased with the decision to retain 90-day trial periods in their current form for businesses with less than 20 employees. Although we are disappointed that larger employers will no longer have the trials available.

The rest of the changes modify the rules around collective bargaining, strengthen union access and delegate rights, and reduce flexibility around meal and rest break timings. There are also new rules requiring employers to pass on information regarding unions to new employees.

This is the first stage of employment law changes. The Prime Minister has indicated that there will be further changes in the future, including the introduction of industry agreements called “Fair Pay Agreements”.

We believe that many of these changes add complexity and compliance burden that isn’t required. Canterbury employers recognise and support good workplace relationships and the current law already deals with those who don’t.

We will continue to work collaboratively with Government to advocate for employment policy that supports a growing economy and throughout this change process, we will keep you up-to-date and informed to ensure that your business is supported.


Rights for employees

These modifications are largely roll-backs of the previous Government’s changes which the Government asserts 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 restores the position to how it was when the 90-day trial was first introduced. The wider reform originally touted appears to have been abandoned.
• Reinstatement will be restored as the primary remedy to unfair dismissal. This was infrequently used but reflects the Government’s view 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 the 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. The process for bargaining to be declared over will be repealed, complimenting this change.
• 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 applicable collective agreement.
• Repeal of partial strike pay deductions where employers could respond in a proportionate way to partial stoppages or other low-level industrial action such as ‘work to rule’ situations.
• Restoration of union access without prior employer consent. Union access will still be subject to requirements to access at reasonable times, and places having regard to business continuity, health and safety.


New Proposals

• 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. This is to include a form for the employee to indicate whether they want to be a member.
• Greater protections against discrimination for union members. This includes 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.


This article on the Employment Relations Amendment Bill was first published by Canterbury Employers Chamber of Commerce and has been reproduced with permission.