Political round up – a focus on employment law

20 Sep 2017
Author: DTI Lawyers
 
Although media attention has been well and truly on this week’s election, there has been little discussion regarding policies that relate to employment issues.

Unsurprisingly, National’s approach is to maintain the status quo. In comparison, Labour is proposing some fundamental changes to employment law, for example, amendments to trial periods, the collective bargaining and introduction of industry-wide terms and conditions of employment (“Fair Pay” Agreements), which some have likened this to a return to a form of national “award” structures, and reinstatement of collective bargaining provisions previously eroded by the current government.

This article provides a snapshot of the key features of the employment law policies outlined in the campaigns of the major political parties.

National

National has indicated the minimum wage increases that have taken place during its term in government are set to continue, at a sustainable rate, if it were re-elected.

Workplace health and safety features in National’s policy, with the Health and Safety at Work Act, and related regulations, contributing to efforts to meet the target of a 25 percent reduction in serious workplace injuries by 2020.

Flexibility for Paid Parental Leave would be achieved by extending leave to 22 weeks, (the present entitlement is 20 weeks) on 1 July 2018, followed by a further two week extension of the leave available for families with a newborn from 1 July 2019. The package provides for both parents to take time off at the same time.

National has introduced the Pay Equity and Equal Pay Bill, aimed to eliminate and prevent pay discrimination on the basis of sex. The Bill has been heavily criticised as stepping well beyond the Working Group Recommendations on Pay Equity, which followed the litigation between care worker Kristine Bartlett and Terranova.

Labour

The Labour party has pledged to raise the minimum wage (from the current rate of $15.75) to $16.50 an hour, and to base further increases on the real cost of living for people on low incomes. Over time, the intention is that minimum wage will reflect 66% of the average wage, as economic conditions allow.

To address the exploitation of workers that can occur within employment relationships, Labour has stated its intention to double the number of Labour Inspectors in order to protect worker rights.

Labour proposes to amend the existing law regarding 90-day trial periods, which denies employees an ability to challenge the employer’s decision to dismiss within that period. A new referee service would be established for claims of unjustified dismissal during trial periods. The intention is to promptly hold short hearings, with representatives allowed but no lawyers present. The referee would issue a binding (and unappealable) decision to reinstate or award damages where an employer’s actions are deemed to be unjustified.


Paid Parental leave will be extended as a priority within the first 100 days of a Labour government. 22 weeks paid parental leave would be available from 2018, and 26 weeks leave available from 2020.

Reinstatement would be restored as the primary remedy for unjustified dismissal, the right to rest and meal breaks would be reintroduced, protections for vulnerable workers upon the sale or transfer of business would be strengthened, and legislation would be introduced to make New Zealand employment laws apply to foreign workers of foreign companies working in New Zealand.

Changes would be introduced to: restore union rights to initiate collective bargaining in advance of employers; require parties to conclude bargaining for collective agreements unless there is a genuine reason not to; and to remove the ability for employers to deduct pay in the case of partial strikes.

Labour opposes the Pay Equity and Equal Pay Bill introduced earlier this year. It proposes to implement industry-wide collective bargaining to create “Fair Pay Agreements (FPA)” between businesses and unions within that industry. FPAs are intended to set basic standards for pay, allowances, weekend and night rates, hours of work, leave arrangements and other employment conditions within an industry. FPAs aim to create a framework for fair wage increases to minimise commercial disadvantage to employers paying workers a reasonable wage.

New Zealand First

New Zealand First has pledged to raise the minimum wage to $20.00 per hour, while reducing taxes for businesses to ensure employers are able to cover this increase. It supports the abolition of the “starting out wage” for young people. New Zealand First also has a focus on addressing employment laws regarding casual employees, with the intention to achieve greater job security.

The Green Party

The Green Party supports a rise in the minimum hourly wage to $17.75 in 2018, with the minimum wage then being maintained at 66% of the average wage. It supports making the minimum wage compulsory for all workers, including youth and employee trainees. Sick leave entitlements would increase.

The Green Party opposes the Pay Equity and Equal Pay Bill, preferring to introduce a Pay and Employment Equity Commission to analyse data on employment equity and work with employers on pay equity.

Whatever your political persuasion, we encourage you to exercise your right to vote.


The DTI Lawyers specialist employment law team will keep you updated on employment law changes post-election.