Employment law: 3 more years of National

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Plans to increase the minimum wage, introduce a living wage and remove the 90-day trial are now firmly off the agenda with the re-election of the National Party. But that doesn't mean the next three years will be quiet when it comes to employment law.

Prior to the election National introduced a raft of changes to employment policy and now back in power with a majority government they have the numbers to push them through.

Kensington Swan lawyers Linda Clark and Hayden Wilson advise employers can expect the following changes to be passed into law:
  • Amending the good faith provisions of the Act. The changes will enable an employer proposing a decision likely to affect an employee’s continued employment to withhold confidential information in a wider range of circumstances;
  • The extension of flexible working arrangements to all employees. Employees will no longer have to apply on the basis of caring responsibilities. Nor will employees have to be employed for six months prior to qualify;
  • Removing the requirement for parties to collective bargaining to conclude an agreement unless there is a genuine reason based on reasonable grounds not to;
  • Introducing the ability for employers to reduce employees’ pay in response to partial strikes;
  • Exempting small and medium enterprises from the provisions of Part 6A of the Act relating to continuity of employment in certain restructuring situations. Another change to Part 6A will mean that employers will be allowed to negotiate the apportionment of service related entitlements they will have to pay. However, where the parties cannot agree, a default formula will apply so that the outgoing employer is liable for holiday pay and the incoming employer is liable for sick pay;
  • Implementing changes to rest and meal breaks. Rather than specifying entitlements by reference to hours worked, the amendments would require the employer to provide the employee with a ‘reasonable opportunity for rest, refreshment and attention to personal matters’. The obligation to provide meal breaks would not have to be met where the employer cannot reasonably do so, having regard to the nature of the employee’s work. The parties may alternatively agree to provide compensatory measures, which must be reasonable, in lieu of rest and meal breaks;
  • Improving the timeliness of Employment Relations Authority decisions. 
National has also promised to strengthen the enforcement of New Zealand’s minimum employment standards, including using labour inspectors more effectively to identify employers who are not complying with minimum wage and annual leave standards.

They also plan to invest $30million into WorkSafe New Zealand to strengthen enforcement and education, employ more health and safety inspectors, focus on high risk areas and bring in stronger penalties.

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