New Zealand Employment Law Update
In May the National Government followed up on its pre-election manifesto by passing the following changes to employment law through Cabinet.
Removing the requirement to conclude a collective agreement unless there are genuine reasons not to, while retaining the requirement to bargain in good faith.
Allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer collective bargaining before negotiations for a multi-employer collective agreement begins.
Allowing for partial pay reductions in cases of partial strike action, and
Removing the 30 day rule where workers are covered by their applicable collective agreement before deciding whether to join the union.
Three new changes were also announced by Cabinet.
The first enables employers to initiate collective bargaining at the same time as Unions. Currently Unions are entitled to a 20 day “head start” when initiating collective bargaining under the Employment Relations Act 2000. Unions could initiate bargaining no earlier than 60 days before a collective employment agreement expired while the employer only had 40 days. Unions saw this as a fundamental right as it allowed them to define the scope of the bargaining. The Government was concerned that this head start created an imbalance in the bargaining position of both parties. This change however could create timing issues if both parties initiate that collective bargaining at the same time. It is yet to be determined what the period will now be for both employers and Unions.
Secondly, Cabinet has approved the changes whereby Unions and employers will be required to provide notice of a strike or lockout. Currently notice of a strike or lockout is only required where “essential services” are involved. This will be extended to all industries. The length of the notice is yet to be determined but is likely to result in Unions being unable to conduct some industrial action, such as “lightening strikes”.
Finally, the Cabinet has approved an extension of the rights of employees to request flexible working arrangements. Currently only certain employees are able to request a variation of their working arrangement. To be eligible to make that request, an employee must have the care of a person, and must have been employed by their employer for at least six months. The amendments proposed will extend the right to request flexible working hours to all employees from day one of employment and without any requirement for caring responsibilities. The right will remain a right to request, and not a substantive right to flexible working arrangements. It is unclear whether the statutory grounds available to employers for refusing a request will remain however. These changes are expected to come into effect later this year.
For all your employment law enquiries please contact us.
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