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Out with the auld, in with the new

December 2013

Another year gone by - just like that. Very soon, we’ll be into 2014 which will bring another spate of changes to the employment law landscape.  Here’s a quick run down on what to expect.

Good faith
During a restructure, affected employees are entitled to information relevant to the continuation of their employment. How much information needs to be provided was a question addressed in the case of Massey University v Wrigley which held that employers have to disclose extensive information to employees, including information that could identify other employees, when considering changes that might impact on their employment.

The Government has decided that the Massey decision goes too far and has introduced changes to peg the law back. While employees will still be entitled to information, employers will not have to provide information about identifiable individuals, evaluative or opinion material, and other information that is subject to a statutory duty of confidentiality or should for some other reason be kept private.

Flexible work arrangements
Currently, employees that have responsibility for the care of another person and who have worked for six months continuously are able to request a flexible working arrangement from their employer. Eligible employees are not entitled to a flexible working arrangement as of right – it is subject to their employer’s approval. However they do have a right to ask.

Come 2014, the Government will be giving all employees the right to ask for a flexible working arrangement regardless of whether they are caring for another or have worked for six months continuously.

Rest and Meal Breaks
The rules relating to rest and meal breaks will also be getting an overhaul. Currently employers are required to provide employees with rest and meal breaks for specified durations and at mandated times. However the Government is doing away with the prescriptions in the Employment Relations Act and leaving it to the parties to negotiate what they consider to be reasonable and necessary with regard to the employee’s work.

Collective bargaining and strike action
The Government’s proposed changes to collective bargaining laws have certainly raised the ire of Unions as 2014 will see some of their key negotiating chips taken off the table. Chief amongst these changes include:

  • Scrapping the requirement that all new employees be given the terms and conditions of the applicable collective agreement for the first 30 days of their employment;
  • Clarifying that the duty of good faith does not require a concluded collective agreement;
  • Allowing the Employment Relations Authority to declare that bargaining has concluded (even without a collective agreement); and
  • Introducing grace periods where bargaining cannot be reinitiated following a declaration that it has been concluded.

Health and Safety
Perhaps the most significant changes will be to New Zealand’s Health and Safety laws. In the wake of the Pike River tragedy, the Government ordered a review into the current laws and asked for recommendations going forwards. The review has recommended a complete overhaul of New Zealand’s health and safety laws so some of the key changes you will be seeing include:

  • The introduction of ‘WorkSafe’, the Government’s new health and safety watchdog;
  • A new health and safety regime based on Australia’s model law;
  • Stiffer penalties for employers and guilty parties;
  • Positive duties on Directors to ensure health and safety standards are maintained.

With the exception of changes to the Health and Safety laws, the proposed changes are still before select committee so we cannot say for sure when the changes will come into effect. However the inside word is that the changes will be coming in early 2014 so be prepared and don’t get left behind.

Cullen - The Employment Law Firm was one of the first eleven law firms in New Zealand approved to provide employment law services to Government and the public sector.

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