Labour U-turns on employee trial policy

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Labour leader Andrew Little has reportedly made a U-turn when it comes to labour law reform, ruling out the eradication of 90-day trial periods for new employees.

According to Stuff, Little was asked to clarify his party’s stance on the matter at a breakfast event in Upper Hutt on Friday.

“Our policy is to add a fairness requirement,” he responded. “We just want to make a requirement to give feedback so the person knows whether they're on track to make the grade or not.”

He added that the majority of employers already provided such feedback, so under the policy most bosses would be unaffected.

As it stands, trial periods are not legally required.

“Trial periods are voluntary, and must be agreed in writing and negotiated in good faith as part of the employment agreement,” the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says on its website.

“An employee who is dismissed before the end of a trial period can’t raise a personal grievance on the grounds of unjustified dismissal. They can raise a personal grievance on other grounds, such as discrimination, harassment or unjustified action by the employer.

“Employees on trial periods are entitled to all other minimum employment rights.”

When he was asked whether the trial periods would remain an option for employers, Little said that he “wouldn't be talking about making the 90 day trial periods fairer if we were going to get rid of [them]”.

He added that any changes would have minimal impact on employers.

“There won't be any new onerous obligations in that regard, but it will make it fairer and we will write that into law,” Little said.

In 2014, while serving as Labour’s spokesman, Little said that the party would abolish the trials.

“We don't need the 90-day law and under Labour it will go,” he said in a statement at the time.

Since Little’s statement last week, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce said that the party leader was simply speaking to mollify the audience he was addressing.

“He's sort of saying there won't be change and yet there will be change,” Joyce said. “He doesn't know which way he wants to go and I suspect he's saying different things to different audiences.

“Small business owners will be looking very carefully at the fine print of any proposed changes because actually they think it's working well the way it is. They like the 90-day trial as a way of bringing on new people that they may not be 100% confident about but they want to give them a go.”

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