Last year, Cabinet proposed a number of law changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (‘ERA’). These were introduced to Parliament on 26 April 2013 in the form of the Employment Relations Amendment bill (‘the Bill’).
The Bill proposes significant changes to collective bargaining. These include:
- Removing the current requirement to conclude a collective agreement except where there are genuine reasons, based on reasonable grounds, not to;
- Allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer collective bargaining;
- Allowing employers to initiate collective bargaining in the same timeframes as unions;
- Allowing the Authority to make a determination that collective bargaining has concluded with neither party being allowed to reinitiate bargaining until 60 days after such a determination;
- Removing the rule that non-union employees who fall within the coverage clause of a collective agreement must be employed on the same terms as the collective agreement for the first 30 days of their employment (and any other agreed terms that are not inconsistent); and
- Requiring advance written notice of any strike or lockout and allowing reductions in pay for
The proposed changes also include a reworking of Part 6A of the ERA (dealing with the rights of “vulnerable workers” in a restructuring) to exclude businesses with less than 20 employees.
In addition, the Bill proposes that all employees will be able to request flexible working arrangements and the Bill will remove prescriptive rules around taking rest and meal breaks.
There are also proposed changes restricting an employee’s ability to seek information about other candidates in redundancy selection processes.
Finally, the Employment Relations Authority will be required to give an oral determination at the conclusion of its investigation meetings or an oral indication followed by a written determination within three months.
The Bill has not yet been presented at its first reading and no doubt it will be hotly debated in Parliament and throughout the select committee stage.
In the meantime, there have been other legislative changes employers need to be aware of. These include:
- An increase in the minimum wage from $13.50 to $13.75 effective 1 April 2013;
- An increase in the training and new entrants minimum rate from $10.80 to $11.00 per hour;
- KiwiSaver minimum contribution rates increased on 1 April, with the minimum rates for both employees and employers increasing from 2% to 3%.
- A recent decision of the Employment Court has also clarified that a compulsory employer contribution to KiwiSaver must be in addition to the minimum wage. Further, the employer contribution is now subject to the deduction of ESCT (Employer Superannuation Contribution Tax).