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Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2018

Posted on: Jan 30, 2018

On 25th January 2018, the Government announced a new Bill to legislate for fairer workplaces.  The Bill is designed to provide greater protections to workers, especially vulnerable workers, and strengthen the role of collective bargaining in the workplace to ensure fair wages and conditions.

To quote Hon Iain Lees-Galloway, “many of the changes in the Bill are focused on lifting wages through collective bargaining. … We will also reinstate key minimum standards and protections to employees, such as the right to prescribed meal and rest breaks and limiting the use of 90 day trial periods to businesses with fewer than 20 employees.”  To read the full announcement click here. 

A summary of the key changes proposed in the Bill are provided below. 

Rights for employees

  1. Restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks. These will be subject to a very limited exception for workers in essential services who cannot be replaced (such as air traffic controllers). We note that currently, while an employee’s entitlement to rest and meal breaks may be restricted in certain circumstances, the employee must be provided with reasonable compensatory measures.
  2. Restriction of 90 day trial periods to SME employers (less than 20 employees). This balances the insecurity of 90 day trials to workers against keeping barriers to hiring low for small businesses. This change would revert the legislation back to when it was first introduced on 1 March 2009.
  3. Reinstatement will be restored as the primary remedy to unfair dismissal (as it was prior to 1 April 2011). This was infrequently used but recognises that in some circumstances the best outcome is for the employee to return to work.
  4. Further protections for employees in the “vulnerable industries” (Part 6A). These changes repeal the SME exemption from coverage (inserted on 6 March 2015), provide more time for employees to decide whether to transfer to a new employer, and provide greater safeguards on transfer of inaccurate information.

Collective bargaining and union rights

Roll-backs to earlier legislation:

  • Restoration of the duty to conclude bargaining unless there is a good reason not to.
  • Restoration of the earlier initiation timeframes for unions in collective bargaining.
  • Removal of the MECA opt out where employers can refuse to bargain for a multi-employer collective agreement.
  • Restoration of the 30 day rule where for the first 30 days new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement.
  • Repeal of partial strike pay deductions where employers can garnish wages for low level industrial action.
  • Restoration of union access without prior employer consent. Union access will still be subject to requirements to access at reasonable times, and places having regarding to business continuity, health and safety.

New proposals:

  • A requirement to include pay rates in collective agreements.
  • A requirement for employers to provide reasonable paid time for union delegates to represent other workers.
  • A requirement for employers to pass on information about unions in the workplace to prospective employees along with a form for the employee to indicate whether they want to be a member.
  • Greater protections against discrimination for union members including an extension of the 12 month threshold to 18 months relating to discrimination based on union activities and new protections against discrimination on the basis of being a union member.

The legislation is expected to have its first reading in early February, we will keep you updated as to its progress.  In the meantime – it’s business as usual!

Disclaimer

This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.

Disclaimer

This article, and any information contained on our website is necessarily brief and general in nature, and should not be substituted for professional advice. You should always seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters addressed.

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