Late Changes to Employment Relations Bill

It appears there has been more going on in the background on this Bill than we thought.  It is now clear that NZ First has forced a couple of key changes to the Bill, which also explains why its progress has virtually come to a standstill.

Following the second reading on 27 November, a Supplementary Order Paper from the Minister recorded the key changes negotiated by the Coalition partners.

The Bill is not expected to go before the House until 2019 and the first sitting date is 12 February so it will be some time after that before the Bill is passed.

The effective date for most changes is pushed back to 6 May 2019.

Key Changes

  • Employers will not be obliged to conclude a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA) if they have reasonable grounds. This could include not wanting to be bound by an agreement that also binds competitors. Although there is no obligation to conclude in certain circumstances, there remains an obligation to engage in the process to some degree.
  • Unions will have to seek consent to enter workplaces, except where there is a collective agreement in place covering the employees concerned, or the union has initiated bargaining for a collective agreement for those employees.

Remaining Changes

The other changes post the Select Committee process remain, including: 

  • The obligation to conclude a collective agreement (unless there are genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds to not do so);
  • Paid time for union delegates to undertake their functions.
  • No deductions for partial strikes.
  • The 30 days rule will be reintroduced, i.e. requiring new employees who are not union members to be covered by an individual agreement based on the collective agreement for the first 30 days of employment.
  • Reinstatement as the primary remedy for personal grievances.
  • Collective agreements must include rates of pay.
  • 90 day trial periods will be restricted to employers employing fewer than 20 employees.
  • Rest and meal breaks will be prescribed, in terms of number, duration and timing.
  • There are additional obligations to pass on union information to new employees; and to pass on information about new employees to the relevant union.

These latest changes only reinforce our view that there is not much to worry about here.