Status quo for employment law
16 September 2014
The general election is almost here yet the main parties are for the most part staying with the status quo in industrial relations.
The National Government has not made wholesale changes to Labour's Employment Relations Act 2000. Its most recent legislative package has been parked.
Both National and Labour propose to increase paid parental leave
National's key proposal is to increase paid parental leave by four weeks to a total of 18 weeks. It also wants to extend paid parental leave to seasonal and casual workers, workers with more than one employer, and people who have recently changed jobs. It would also allow parents on paid parental leave to work limited days without losing their entitlements.
Labour is proposing to go further with paid parental leave, increasing it to a total of 26 weeks. It also wants to increase the minimum wage to $15 in its first 100 days in government and then to $16.25 by early 2015. It will hold a commission of inquiry into wages and collective bargaining, which avoids putting change to the electorate and delays the decision. This area is important to unions.
The sharp differences in employment policy really appear when one looks to the minor parties. But they are bit players with little power.
To the right, ACT would allow employers to engage staff on trial periods for up to 12 months and would offer workers who are paid more than $100,000 a year the opportunity to opt out of personal grievance provisions.
The party would also abolish reinstatement as a remedy for unfair dismissal.
Key among NZ First's employment package is a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $17 an hour and a planned review of the use of short-term, or fixed-term, contracts. Another review, thereby not putting a new policy before the electorate.
The Greens are also proposing to raise the minimum wage, but they want to take it to $18 an hour by 2017.
They have also indicated that they will introduce the "living wage" for staff working in the government sector and are seeking to introduce statutory requirement that employers pay compensation to redundant workers.
The Maori Party's primary employment policy is the introduction of a living wage of $18.80 for all employees.
The Internet-Mana Party, led by Hone Harawira and Laila Harre, has perhaps the most far-reaching and radical employment policies of any of the parties - some of which would be more commonly found in the days when collective agreements and industrial awards were supreme.
Like a number of other parties, Internet-Mana would introduce a living wage of $18.80 an hour for all employees and index it at 66 per cent of the average wage. It would give workers greater bargaining rights to negotiate wages and conditions, including the right to strike.
Internet-Mana also wants to require employers to offer extra hours to existing staff up to 40 hours a week before hiring new staff, abolish the 90 day trial period and double employee entitlements to sick leave.
Paid parental leave would also be increased to 12 months and, like the Greens, compulsory redundancy payments would be legislated for.
Matariki Day would become a new public holiday and casual workers would get a 25 per cent loading to their hourly rate.
The election will bring little change to employment law unless the minor parties prevail, resulting in the tail wagging the dog.