Stronger protections for casual and temp workers

  • Trevor Mallard

Employment protections for temporary and casual workers are to be strengthened under proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act, Labour Minister Trevor Mallard announced today.

"The proposed changes demonstrate the government’s commitment to protecting the most vulnerable members of the workforce and to providing an employment environment that is conducive to all parties conducting their relationship in good faith. Thanks to NZ First deputy leader Peter Brown for his interest and support in this area which the Labour-led government was very happy to have," Trevor Mallard said.

"Under the changes, the Department of Labour will develop a Code of Employment Practice for Casual and Non-Standard Employment which will make it easier for employers to understand and comply with their obligations to casual and temporary workers," Trevor Mallard said.

"The code is also expected to help employees understand what they are entitled to by law.

"An awareness-raising campaign that aims to increase workers’ knowledge of their statutory rights in the workplace is also planned.

"Research on casual workers and their employers shows there is a general lack of knowledge about their employment rights and obligations. It also found there was limited access to holiday, sick leave, training, skill development and career pathways, and that casual work caused undue intrusion into family life, limiting the ability to budget and plan ahead.

"Casual and temporary working relationships tend to be very flexible and change over time so the status of these vulnerable workers is not always obvious," Trevor Mallard said.

Under the proposed legislative changes, employees and employers will be able to clarify their relationship using a test that has already been developed in case law by the Employment Court. This test will be included in the proposed new code, and takes into account how regular the employment is, how much autonomy the worker has and whether the worker is genuinely free to accept or reject offers of employment.

"At present, only the Employment Relations Authority and the Employment Court have the power to decide whether an employee has a fixed term contract or is actually a permanent employee. An amendment to the Employment Relations Act will extend this power to labour inspectors, giving employers and employees a simpler process for confirming their status," Trevor Mallard said.

"The Act will also be amended to strengthen the rights of employees who are in a ‘triangular’ employment relationship. These are employees whose employer contracts their services to a third party, which effectively controls the employee’s work. Employees in this situation, who belong to a union, will be entitled to terms and conditions at least as favourable as those enjoyed by unionised workers employed directly by the secondary employer under a collective agreement.

"Both primary employers and employees will be able to join a secondary employer in any grievance proceedings," Trevor Mallard said.

"This incorporates provisions in Labour MP Darien Fenton's members bill, entered into the ballot last November and also Labour Party policy.

"These proposed changes also follow on from other positive initiatives by the Labour-led government for low paid and vulnerable workers and working families, including enshrining meal and rest breaks and breast feeding facilities into law, the introduction and then extension of paid parental leave, the introduction of four weeks annual leave, and annual increases to the minimum wage," Trevor Mallard said.

The cabinet paper Non-standard and casual work arrangements:proposed amendments to the Employment Relations Act 2000 and related research Casual and temporary Employment: Report on Phase One Research, and Casual and Temporary Employment: Report on Industry Engagement and Promotional Activities are available at