The Act amends the Employment Relations Act 2000 and makes a number of key changes, including:
- Allowing unions and employers to initiate bargaining at the same time and entitling employers to reduce employees' pay in response to partial strikes;
- Extending the right to request flexible working arrangements to all employees and not just those with caring responsibilities;
- A requirement for the Employment Relations Authority to provide written determinations within three months of the completion of the investigation meeting;
- Providing greater flexibility for employers and employees in respect of the time and duration of rest and meal breaks and introducing compensatory measures where an employer fails to provide a break;
- Clarifying (and limiting) the requirement for employers to disclose information pursuant to the duty of good faith in section 4 of the ERA 2000: and
- Requiring the ERA to give an oral determination, or an oral indication of its preliminary findings, at the conclusion of the investigation hearing. It must then follow up with a written determination within three months of the investigation meeting (or receipt of the last information or submissions from the parties, if later).
Kensington Swan's employment law
team advise employers may need to update their policies or amend their employment agreements in order to represent these amendments. They suggest some immediate changes to consider are:
- Removing any reference to the 30-day rule from the template employment agreements and negotiating its removal from collective agreements when they are up for renegotiation;
- Removing prescriptive references to breaks in employment agreements for new employees; and
- Look to negotiate with existing employees around possible changes.
“Employers may also want to take advantage of the new collective bargaining framework as it will apply to on-going collective bargaining. However, understanding your rights and obligations under the new amendments is crucial to avoiding problems down the track,” they write.
“As always, the duty of good faith continues to underpin all our employment relationships so an employer must go about introducing any changes following a fair and reasonable process. As a minimum, any such process will include genuine consultation and some changes will also require agreement of the other parties in the employment relationship.”
Preparing for the ERA Bill requirements
Employers have four months to prepare for the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2014 (Act). The Act has now received Royal assent and will come into force on 6 March 2015.