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Employment Relations changes announced

Written By: - Date published: 1:28 pm, January 25th, 2018 - 20 comments
Categories: employment, Iain Lees-Galloway, labour, nz first, unemployment, Unions, wages, workers' rights - Tags: ,

The Government’s changes to employment law have been announced.  From the Beehive website:

The Government has taken an important step toward creating a high-performing economy that delivers good jobs, decent work conditions and fair wages with a new Bill to amend the Employment Relations Act 2000, says Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway.

The Bill is designed to provide greater protections to workers, especially vulnerable workers, and strengthen the role of collective bargaining in the workplace to ensure fair wages and conditions.

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

“We will also reinstate key minimum standards and protections to employees, such as the right to prescribed meal and rest breaks and limiting the use of 90 day trial periods to businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

“This legislation 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.

“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 Mr Lees-Galloway.

Union response to the changes has been mostly positive but there is concern that the 90 day fire at will law will be amended and not repealed.  From the Etu website:

E tū, the biggest private-sector union in New Zealand, is pleased with most of the Employment Relations Amendment Bill announced by the Government today.

E tū National Secretary Bill Newson says that the process is “off to a flying start”, with many improvements for working people and their unions.

Bill says the changes recognise the pressing concerns about the personal and economic cost of low wages and inequality.

“This Government has made fixing inequality a top priority. Wages are a huge factor in this, so strengthening the rights of workers and their unions is critical,” Bill says.

“We see this bill as a big leap forward towards a fair and equitable society.”

Bill says the changes restore many of the rights that were taken away by the last Government.

“We can celebrate some big wins for all workers, such as the restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks and the restoration of reinstatement as the primary remedy to unfair dismissal.”

Bill says working people will also be in a better position thanks to strengthened collective bargaining and union rights.

“Unions will have improved access to workplaces, making unions more available to their members and prospective members. It’s also great that employers will be required to pass on information about active unions – people need to know about the best vehicle for their voice in the workplace. Paid time for union delegates to represent their colleagues will be a much-deserved recognition of the important work that union delegates carry out.

“In short, what we are seeing is the reversal of much of National’s damaging industrial relations policies, along with some exciting new initiatives.”

However, E tū is disappointed that 90-day trial periods could remain for employers with 20 or fewer workers.

“There isn’t a majority in parliament in support of scrapping the 90-day ‘fire at will’ law in its entirety, which is disappointing,” Bill says.

“This is the nature of a coalition government under MMP. It’s now our task, as part of the wider labour movement, to improve this part of the bill.

“We’ll be there at select committees to explain why any ‘fire at will’ law is both unfair and unnecessary.”

It appears that retention occurred after lobbying from New Zealand First and reflects that the Government does not yet have the numbers to repeal the provision.  From the Herald:

After lobbying from New Zealand First, the controversial 90-day trial will be kept, but will only be available to businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

All employers will still be able to use probationary periods which, unlike 90-day trial periods, do not allow for unjustified dismissal.

It comes as small-business confidence has plunged to its lowest level in nine years. According to ANZ’s quarterly Business Micro Scope survey, 29 per cent of small businesses were more pessimistic about the year ahead, a net fall of 43 per cent from the previous survey.

This is one law that deserves a quick death rather than being retained but weakened.  The explanation for it was always flimsy, because there always used to be the ability to include probationary periods in an employment contract.  Allowing employers to avoid any pretence of natural justice when firing someone within the first three months of their employment was never justifiable and never produced the claimed benefits.

How this law is handled will present an interesting problem for the Government.  Etu is right to say the law is both unfair and unnecessary.

20 comments on “Employment Relations changes announced ”

  1. Michael 1

    Fire at will remains for 97 percent of all NZ workplaces. A clear win for the bosses, as it is a defeat for vulnerable workers. Business as usual under “Labour”.

    • McFlock 1.1

      Because lab+grn < nat+NZ1.

      97% of employers, but 29% of employees. So clear benefit to 70% of employees. Still a turd, but hardly BAU.

    • red-blooded 1.2

      I agree that it’s really disappointing that the plan to repeal the 90 days law got diluted. Don’t just dump your anger on Labour, though – this a a Labour-led government, but they need the agreement of all three parties to progress a new law or law change, and in this case the sticking point was NZF. That’s the reality of MMP.

      There are other good things happening, as noted by E Tu and others, but I really wish they’d been able to deliver more fully by repealing this unjust law. I seem to recall findings from MBIE that the 90 days law hadn’t made any appreciable difference to employment despite all the talk about making it less risky to hire new employees.

      Side note, it may be 97% of workplaces, but the percentage of employees employed in workplaces of 20 employees or fewer is 29%. That’s probably a more significant figure when considering the impact of this.

      • indiana 1.2.1

        Do you think that small business owners will think twice before expanding their business above 20 employees?

        • red-blooded

          I doubt it (that would assume that they’ve got very little confidence about their own hiring practices), but if it does, then I guess that’s an issue to take up with NZF.

        • Draco T Bastard

          I’m pretty sure that most small business owners vote National which is proof that they don’t actually think.

        • infused

          If the law got rejected, we would stop some of our programs, like taking kids straight out of polytech etc.

          • McFlock

            What, you can’t handle a trial period where you have to be fair to your employees?

            Or you can’t deal with the concept of fixed term roles targetted at specific projects?

            Or give employees enough rope to hang themselves through the disciplinary process, e.g. an early start time to weed out the partiers?

            Or is it that your job requires skillsets you don’t test for in the recruitment process?

          • Draco T Bastard

            Well, what we do know is that the Fire at Will Bill never actually achieved anything that National and all other RWNJs said it would anyway so nobody gives a fuck about your imaginary threats.

  2. Son of Don 2

    TPPA and 90 day trials all get the thumbs up in the same day. Add to that the backdown on select committees, tree planting BS, previous backdown on CGT etc and this is a party big on rhetoric and not much more. Watch for the new post “Lies from Jacinda”

    • SPC 2.1

      And in 2020 there is a CGT in the manifesto and a centrist Labour in place to enact it. And tree planting and Kiwibuild will be at pace by the second term.

    • red-blooded 2.2

      “Previous backdown on CGT” – you’re going back a full election cycle to find that one, mate! Plus, note that the 90 days thing has gone for 70% of workers, the 5 issues Labour wanted addressed for TPPS have been addressed (including things the Nats said were impossible but hadn’t even asked about), and the tree planting plan is going ahead.

      Don’t get over-excited, Don!

  3. mary_a 3

    With the exception of the 90 day trial period, which I was hoping to be completely abolished, I think Labour is on the right track here rectifying the past biased employment law.

    Vicious employment law that encouraged slave labour and workplace abuse, courtesy of Key, English, Joyce et al, will take some time to adjust.

    I’m feeling a little more positive now about future employment relations after reading through this bill. At least it’s pointing in the right direction and is some progression forward.

    Having been a small business employer of two people in the past, my experience was to always treat staff with respect, fairness and consideration, something which in turn led to happy, honest productive staff.

  4. Pat 4

    “We will also reinstate key minimum standards and protections to employees, such as the right to prescribed meal and rest breaks….”

    An important if overlooked aspect, particularly in hospitality industry.

    • patricia bremner 4.1

      These are the first gains for workers in a long long time. Once again!!! We are not going to get everything straight away.

  5. millsy 5

    Ironically, the small business sector is where this law is mainly misused. For the larger companies, it’s probably just a formality, and you have to do something really bad to not get through the 90 days.

    The outcry at these moves just really go to show about how expendable workers are in this country.

  6. eco maori 6

    When a employer can sack you with in 90 days and is not required to give you any written reason on why You have been fired leaves the door open for the employer to lie about the reason you are dismissed when you find that the employer has breach your contractual employment rights and try to litigate sue them nothing in writing no proof for the employee. I say that stinks to high heaven. All employers should be legerslated to provide a written reason for a dismissal. (I say that all employers should be legerslated to provide written reason why the employee is being dismissed. If not then this breach your human rights rights to a fair trial)
    Ka kite ano

    • Ed1 6.1

      There may not be sufficient votes in favour of doing away with the 90 day rule entirely, but should there be a provision that removal of the availability of that provision be able to be removed for any breach of employment law? That may be sufficient to catch at least the worst offenders – could that be acceptable to NZFirst?

      • McFlock 6.1.1

        The thing about the 90day as it stands is that they don’t have to say the reason. Unless there’s a bit of paper somewhere that explicitly states you were fired for illegal X, they just stay quiet and you can’t prove a damned thing.

        Fortunately most of the worst offenders are too bloody stupid to even do the 90day thing legally, and either fuck up the paperwork on implementing it in the first place, or outright say that they fired the person on illegal grounds (e.g. human rights act violation).

        In general, this case illustrates the coalition nature of the current government – NZ1 would be after the SMEs who are too dim to employ people properly and are kneejerk conservatives, but alienated by National’s love of the corporate chequebook. The people who would normally vote Nat but are in the regions or don’t have enough profit to spend on a Cabinet Club ticket.

        It might get revisited when a few of the regional development projects are ticking over, but… we need a bigger christmas tree vote next time to really move it further.

  7. Sanctuary 7

    Retaining the limited 90 day fire at Will rules is disappointing on another level. According to reports, Labour was “lobbied” so they changed their minds. This is troubling at two levels. First, the affront to democracy that elite lobbying is. Who did this lobbying, and who were the weak minded MPs who caved to these lobbyists? This needs to be known and noted ahead of selection for the 2020 election. Secondly, if Labour can rolled so easily on the basis of lobbying by elite interests, how much of a pushover will they be when the capitalist class really puts the pedal to the metal?

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