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NZ Government Passes Employment Relations Amendment Bill

Published December 05, 2018 (last updated December 3, 2020) -

NZ Government Passes Employment Relations Amendment Bill

The New Zealand Government has passed its Employment Relations Amendment Bill, green-lighting significant changes to the national workplace relations system that will affect every employer in the country.

The Bill is set to receive Royal Assent in the coming days, and certain changes will come into effect immediately afterwards. A range of other changes will become effective on 6 May 2019.

For a timeline of the changes please follow this link.

Changes You Need To Know About

1) Rest and meal breaks

Employers must now offer set meal breaks, with specific rules in terms of payment, length and timing. These provisions will depend on how long the employee is working. While it may be possible for an employer and employee to agree to change when the breaks happen, they cannot agree to a shorter break length. There is only a very minor exception to these rules for essential services, so the majority of businesses will have to comply.

What does this mean for you?

It is more important than ever to have a well-drafted employment agreement and breaks policy. Existing agreements and policies will likely need amending to make sure the business is compliant.

2) Restriction of the 90-day trial to small/medium enterprises

The 90 day trial period affecting the hiring and termination of new employees will now only apply to businesses that employ 19 or fewer employees.

What does this mean for you?

You need to have a clear plan around hiring new employees and how to use the 90 day trial period legally. If you no longer have access to a 90 day trial period then you need to have strong policies in place for managing difficult employees.

3) Union rights to access a workplace

Union representatives will be able to enter a workplace without obtaining consent in certain circumstances (if there is currently a collective agreement or there is bargaining for a collective agreement). In addition, an employee who is a union delegate can now access reasonable paid time to conduct union business at work.

What does this mean for you?

To protect against the strict penalties for breaching union rights, it is important that business owners know when they can impose conditions upon a union representative’s right to enter a workplace and what rules apply for paid time off for union members.

4) Collective agreements and collective bargaining

Changes outlined in the Employment Relations Amendment Bill will give unions more power in the collective bargaining process. Another amendment allows a union to tell an employer what they must provide to prospective employees.

In one concession to employers, they can bargain with unions alone on the basis of genuine reasons (one potential example being another employer being in a different region).

In addition, if there is a collective agreement in place, any new non-union employees must be employed on the same terms and conditions of the collective agreement for their first 30 days of employment.

What does this mean for you?

There are strict penalties for not complying with these rules, therefore it is essential that business owners can feel confident in the collective bargaining process and make sure they are employing new employees on the correct terms.

5) Vulnerable workers

The exemption allowing employers with 19 or fewer employees to choose not to take on existing employees if they win a contract has been removed. Under the new Employment Relations Amendment Bill, all businesses that take over a contract that involves “vulnerable” employees will have to employ the people currently doing the work on the same terms and conditions.

What does this mean for you?

This will have a big effect on small businesses and will likely result in a number of redundancy processes.  As always, to avoid significant costs, having a clear strategy and knowing the rules will be essential.

6) Remedies

If an employee is successful in a personal grievance, they must be reinstated if they want to be unless the Employment Relations Authority thinks it is not practical to do so.

What does this mean for you?

Employers need to have strong policies and procedures in place when managing and terminating employees.

Be confident

With the Employment Relations Amendment Bill set to become Law, it’s more important than ever to for employers to know their rights and obligations. If you need any advice on understanding and implementing these changes please call us on 0800 568 012 or email [email protected] to discuss.

About Employsure

Employsure is one of New Zealand’s largest workplace relations advisers to small and medium businesses, with over 5,500 clients. We take the complexity out of workplace legislation to help small business employers protect their business and their people.

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