Workplace law finally passed
The Government finally passed its flagship workplace relations bill after months of consternation, ending 90-day trials for large businesses.
The bill was twice softened by Labour’s coalition partner NZ First – first before it was introduced and then before the second reading. The behind-the-scenes controversy over the bill spilled into the public arena in August and September when NZ First MP Shane Jones criticised parts of it on Q+A and leader Winston Peters described it as a ‘‘work in progress’’. This led to unions writing directly to Peters asking him to back down.
The new law mostly takes workplace relations law back to where it was when Labour was last in Government. National has promised to repeal it if it comes to power any time soon.
It passed 63-57 with Labour, NZ First and the Greens voting for it.
The law ends 90-day trials for businesses with more than 20 employees. These clauses could be written into contracts and allowed employers to fire an employee without stating a reason or going through a dismissal process within the first 90 days of employment. Probationary periods, which are more limited, will remain legal. NZ First won the exclusion for small businesses, which employ roughly a third of the country’s workers, during negotiations before the bill was introduced.
It also takes rest and meal breaks back to where they were before 2015. Currently, employees must have some sort of rest and meal break but there are no prescribed minimums and if there is disagreement the employer can set what they see as a ‘‘reasonable’’ break. The law change will mean an eight-hour shift must include two 10-minute rest breaks and one 30-minute meal break, and if employers and employees disagree on when these should happen they should occur roughly in the middle of the shift.
Union and collective bargaining rights will also be bolstered. Businesses will have a duty to conclude single-employer collective bargaining, as they did before 2015.