Work­place law fi­nally passed

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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.

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