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Govt to strengthen unions, worker protections with employment law changes

Thursday 25th January 2018

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The government will amend the Employment Relations Act to strengthen collective bargaining, reinstate minimum standards and employee protections, and prevent 90-day trials being used by big businesses.

The amendments to employee rights roll back changes made by the previous National-led government. The bill seeks to restore statutory rest and meal breaks, with limited exceptions for workers like air traffic controllers; restrict the 90-day trial period to businesses with fewer than 20 employees; restore reinstatement as the primary legal remedy for unfair dismissal; and create further protections for workers in "vulnerable industries".

The bill would restore the duty to conclude collective bargaining, unless there is a good reason not to, and repeal the process to have bargaining declared over. It would restore earlier initiation timeframes for unions in collective bargaining, remove an opt-out where employers can refuse to bargain for a multi-employer collective agreement, and restore the 30-day rule meaning that, for the first 30 days, new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement. 

It would also prevent employers from deducting pay for low-level industrial action, such as wearing t-shirts instead of uniforms, and restore union access to workplaces without prior employer consent, although that access is subject to requirements to access at reasonable times, and places having regard to business continuity, health and safety. 

New rules the government seeks to introduce include putting pay rates in collective agreements, making employers provide "reasonable" paid time for union delegates to represent other workers, employers having to inform prospective employees about unions, and greater protections against discrimination for union members.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said the bill was part of Labour's workplace relations programme, which includes minimum wage increases and pay equity legislation.

"Many of the changes in the bill are focused on lifting wages through collective bargaining," Lees-Galloway said. "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."

The bill is expected to have its first reading in early February. 

The legislation won't cover more the government's more contentious Fair Pay Agreement plans setting industry-wide basic employment conditions. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern this week said that work was on a slower track to allow consultation with employers and trade unions. 


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