Changes announced to the Employment Relations Act

Yesterday the Minister of Labour, the Hon Kate Wilkinson, announced that changes had been approved by Cabinet to amend the Employment Relations Act 2000.  Most of the media coverage has focussed on Part 6A of the Act, which (in very simple terms) concerns the transfer of employment of ‘vulnerable employees’ in contracting situations.

However, other changes in the pipeline will have far more impact on employment relations in New Zealand than any alterations to Part 6A of the Act.  In particular, more far-reaching changes to collective bargaining and collective arrangements were announced earlier this year, including:

  • New employees (who are not already a member of the relevant union) will be able to be offered an individual employment agreement from the outset, rather than needing to be employed on the terms of any collective agreement for the first 30 days.  This will allow greater flexibility with employment arrangements, such as new employees having different shift patterns or variable duties to suit both parties that may not be permissible under an applicable collective agreement.
  • Employers will be able to opt out of multi-employer bargaining, before the bargaining commences.
  • Where employees go on a ‘partial strike’ or a ‘go slow’, their pay can be reduced accordingly (which is tricky to achieve at present).
  • Notice of a strike or a lockout will need to be given.
  • The parties to collective bargaining will no longer be required to conclude a collective agreement (with the Employment Relations Authority being able to declare when bargaining has concluded).
  • The time limits for the union/employer initiation of bargaining will be aligned, which is a good way to stop ‘game playing’ during the initiation phase of the bargaining process.

Relevant to restructuring, the duty of ‘good faith’ will be amended to clarify that employers are not required to provide employees with access to ‘evaluative material’ about their application for any new or remaining roles in a restructuring, or to access to confidential information about other candidates.  This is designed to step away from Employment Court decisions concerning Massey University.

More information about the changes can be seen in the Beehive Q&A sheet.

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