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2017: the year that was.

2017: the year that was.

On the workplace relations front, 2017 has been a year of significant change which will impact New Zealand workplaces for years to come. The changes not only cover minimum entitlements for employees, but also cover workplace safety which remains a complex issue but has recently seen an increase in penalties as of this year.

Minimum wage increase.

On 1 July 2017, the adult minimum wage rose to $15.75 with the living wage being placed at $20.20. While a modest increase from the $15.25 it was before the change, this is a contrast to what employers can expect on 1 April 2018 when the adult minimum wage increase will hit $16.50. Employers can expect to see these rises to continue for years to come with the new Government having expressed their desire for the minimum wage to be $20.20.

Health and Safety at Work Act – first six figure fine.

In September of this year, 18 months after its inception the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 claimed its first victim. The plastics manufacturer from North Palmerston was fined $100,000 despite there now being the potential of fines in excess of $1million. Before this legislative change, the maximum fine was $40,000 and if recent cases are any guide of what is to come there is a growing push on enforcement and ignorance of obligations are proving no defence.

Pay equity settlement.

Also on 1 July 2017, workers in certain disability and aged care professions received a pay rise of between 15 and 50% depending on their qualifications and experience. Over the next five years, employees in this field will see their wages increase anywhere between $19 and $27 per hour, with those on minimum wage ($15.75 per hour) seeing their wage increase to $19 per hour. This is a 21% increase for those on minimum wage and works out roughly $100 per week extra in take home pay. While this has only been impacting the public sector at this stage, this is clearly going to place added pressure on private providers in competing for staff based on pay rates.

Double the number of labour Inspectors.

Another change as a result of the national election is the commitment from the new Government to double the number of labour inspectors from its current level of 55 to 110. While this shift is not something directly impacting the day to day of running of businesses, this is an indication of how the focus of the Government and the Regulator is shifting towards enforcement and compliance.

Hazardous substances.

On 1 December, the Health and Safety at Work (Hazardous Substances) Regulations 2017 came into force aimed at reducing the harm from work-related activities involving hazardous substances. This new regulation sets guidelines for the safe production, transport, handling, use and disposal of hazardous materials.

It is now mandatory to keep both an inventory of hazardous substances and their safety data sheets. By making sure there is an emergency plan in place, including who to contact, employers can avoid a potential $30,000 fine from Worksafe.

2017 has seen critical changes to the way employers manage their own workplaces, however this appears to be a sign of things to come as more regulation is implemented and harsher penalties become available to regulators. For advice, employers should call Employsure on 0800 675 700.

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