The new Government was sworn in on 26 October 2017 promising a number of changes to employment law. Since then, the first change passed into law was the extension of paid parental leave from the current 18 weeks to 22 weeks from 1 July 2018 and 26 weeks from 1 July 2020.
In addition, there are a number of new policies that the Government has said it plans to implement within its first 100 days including increasing the minimum wage and specifying rest and meal break requirements.
Press releases from the Beehive have said that the minimum wage will increase from $15.75 to $16.50 on 1 April 2018. The Government has promised then to increase this to $20 an hour by 2020. In the election campaign, Labour said that it intended to keep increasing the minimum wage to two-thirds of the average wage “as economic conditions allow”.
On 1 November 2017, further press releases said that the Government would withdraw the Employment (Pay Equity and Equal Pay) Bill that had been introduced by the National Government. It then said it would start working on new legislation that the Government considers adheres better to the principles set by the Joint Working Group on Pay Equity.
It isn’t clear yet what the new legislation will look like, however, the purpose behind the changes is said to be to ensure that women in female dominated workforces have access to court processes to settle equal pay and pay equity claims, as well as having access to collective bargaining. In the meantime, we are aware of a number of pay equity claims that have stalled because of the uncertainty over what might happen with new legislation.
As a reminder on what might be coming, as part of the election campaign, as well as these items above Labour pledged to:
- pay all “core” public service employees at least the living wage (currently $20.20);
- double the number of Labour Inspectors to 110;
- introduce a “speedy, lawyer-free referee service” to determine challenges to dismissals that arise during trial periods; and
- introduce Fair Pay Agreements (FPA’s).
It isn’t clear when the Government plans to introduce FPA’s, but this may be one of the more significant changes to employment law. FPA’s are intended to comprise a common set of terms and conditions of employment applying to a particular industry. It still isn’t clear yet how an FPA would be established and how exactly it would operate. However, Labour has indicated that a year would be needed to discuss the proposal with businesses and unions, so we may not hear much more about FPA’s for another year.
Given the promises made during the election, the Prime Minister’s mention of “restoring workers’ rights” in her first speech and the swift changes already made to paid parental leave, it does appear that the new Government is committed to making serious changes in employment law. Employers will need to be aware of any upcoming changes so that they can be implemented quickly and easily when required.