Traditionally, one of the first things a new National Government does is repeal employment laws introduced by Labour. However, it’s now more than one year since the election and nothing much has changed.
The Minister of Labour, Kate Wilkinson, recently addressed the Auckland Employment Law Committee on the approach the Government was taking to employment law.
The Minister stated that flexibility in employment law was crucial. The focus of the Government was to create a flexible employment framework that was fair to both parties. The Minister said she was open to lobbying about the changes required to employment laws, but she needed to know specifically what was not working and suggestions on how it could be fixed. The Minister was keen to avoid over-regulation as this was not conducive to creating a flexible framework.
More specifically, she discussed:
Health and Safety
Health and Safety in employment is a key focus for the Government over the next year with over one person a week dying as a result of a work place accident. The Minister noted that it was not only a personal tragedy for those involved but had huge cost implications for business and also the wider society. That cost has been approximated at $16 billion.
The Minister had recently met with senior executives from the country’s largest companies, the CEO of the Department of Labour and the CEO of ACC to discuss the formation of a Chief Executives’ Forum on Health and Safety. The purpose of the proposed forum was to see business and Government work together to reduce injuries and illnesses at work. The Minister was keen to utilise the knowledge of the senior executives as she believed they are perfectly placed to help the Government identify where the health and safety risks are within various industries.
90 Day Trial Period
The Minister noted that the 90 day trial period introduced in March appeared to be working successfully. She had received no indication that it was being abused by employers. However, she was keen to receive feedback from employers and employees as to whether the trial period was working.
The Minister was asked whether the trial period would be extended to organisation with more than 20 employees. She indicated that while this move was not yet on the radar she would be open to lobbying on this point.
Holidays Act Amendments
As many of you will be aware, submissions for amendments to the Holidays Act 2003 closed some time ago. The Minister advised that a total of 240 submissions had been received by the Review Committee and a clear theme had emerged that the Holidays Act needed to be simplified to enable people to readily understand it, particularly the calculation of “relevant daily pay”.
The Minister confirmed the amendments would include a provision enabling employees to cash in their fourth week of holiday by agreement and the intention is to word this provision to enable it to be flexible enough to accommodate both employer and employee wishes.
A Bill was introduced in Parliament on 5 August 2009 by Sue Bradford, which provides a statutory right to compensation for redundancy based on a minimum of 4 weeks’ remuneration for the first full year of an employee’s continuous employment with the employer and 2 weeks’ remuneration for each subsequent full or partial year, up to a maximum entitlement of 26 weeks’ remuneration.
Ms Wilkinson stated that 22 submissions had been received in relation to the issue of statutory redundancy and the Minister advised that only four of those submissions were not in favour of a right to statutory redundancy pay. However, the Minister also said she was very conscious of adding unnecessary cost to New Zealand businesses at this difficult economic time.
Currently groups of employees are required to register as a union in order for them to bargain on a collective basis. Prior to the election, National expressed a strong view that it wanted to amend the law to enable employees to enter a collective agreement without having to belong to a union. This right last existed under the Employment Contracts Act and if introduced, would meet strong union resistance. Ms Wilkinson simply indicated this option was still being “examined”.
Draft Code of Employment Practice on Infant Feeding
The Draft Code of Employment Practice on Infant Feeding had gone out for consultation and submissions have been received. A final Code is due out shortly.
The purpose of the Code is to provide employers with guidance on how to fulfil their obligations concerning the provision of breastfeeding breaks and facilities under the Employment Relations Act 2000.
Employment Relations Authority
Finally, the Minister stated she had concerns about the length of time some Authority Members were taking to issue determinations. The extensive delay in some cases meant that parties were not getting the “fast and cost effective” solution which the Authority was supposed to provide. The Minister stated that the delay in issuing determinations would be a consideration in the reappointment process of each Authority Member. National has also previously stated it believes all Authority Members should be legally qualified.