Improvements to employment law announced

  • Kate Wilkinson

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson has announced a package of measures that will extend workers’ rights to request flexible working hours and ensure a fair and flexible collective bargaining environment.

The changes were approved by Cabinet today and are expected to go before Parliament this year.

“These improvements are a reflection of National’s election manifesto, and show that we’re keeping our pre-election promises,” Ms Wilkinson says.

“We are extending the right to request flexible working arrangements to all workers, right from their first day on the job. Under the current law this is only available to caregivers, and only then after six months of employment.

“Modern lifestyles are changing, and workplaces need to reflect this reality. Flexible working arrangements will boost productivity and help employees find the work-life balance that works for them and their family.

“Flexible hours are often agreed to informally, and by extending eligibility to all employees, we hope to encourage agreement without having to go through a formal process.”

Ms Wilkinson says that the modest changes to collective bargaining will address the fact that some of the current rules are overly bureaucratic, limit choice and reduce the effectiveness of the bargaining process.

“The changes we are making are about improving efficiencies and making it fairer for both workers and employers.”

The changes include:

• A return to the original position in the Employment Relations Act where the duty of good faith does not require the parties to conclude a collective agreement.
• Allowing employers to opt out of multi-employer bargaining.
• Allowing for partial pay reductions in cases of partial strike action.
• Removing the 30-day rule that forces non-union members to take union terms and conditions.

“In addition to these manifesto policies, parties will be required to provide notice of a strike or lock-out. We will also fix the anomaly where there are different time frames for unions and employers to initiate collective bargaining,” Ms Wilkinson says.

Ms Wilkinson says that the changes reflect a pragmatic approach to improving fairness and flexibility in employment law that will improve work-life balance, increase productivity, and help create higher paying jobs for all New Zealanders.