All in a day's work
Employment lawyer Bridget Smith blogs on workplace and HR issues. Bridget is a senior associate at law firm Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.

All in a day's work: Policies, promises and public holidays...

Photo / Martin Sykes
Photo / Martin Sykes

Already, it is difficult to miss the fact that it is an election year.

In their 'State of the Nation' speeches, and more recently, the two main political parties (National and Labour) have given indications of changes they are planning, including proposed changes in the employment and industrial relations spheres.

One of the most significant of these (for some more than others, I acknowledge) is the planned change to parental leave by the Labour party, if elected.

National's focus appears to be to cut spending; get New Zealanders saving, and investing in New Zealand companies through the partial sale of some state assets.

Labour, by comparison, is promising to open the purse strings, including extending the amount of paid parental leave available.

Australia offers paid parental leave of up to 18 weeks, but has different qualifying requirements to those in New Zealand.

One apparent 'side effect', if you like, of the recession, has been an influx of employees deciding it is time to have children.

Perhaps some have seen parental leave as an option for avoiding redundancy? One school of thought is that it is less palatable to make an employee on parental leave redundant (though it is still possible).

The other side of the coin is whether it is risky to take time out of the office, at a time when many employers have been downsizing their numbers.

Against that background, is there a need to increase the parental leave entitlements? While an increase in the number of weeks' paid leave may be attractive, is it still attractive if the qualifying period of employment is increased from six months to ten months (the current New Zealand and Australian qualifying periods of employment)?

There is frequent talk about the wage gap between Australia and New Zealand - will bridging the gap in respect of parental leave make New Zealand a more attractive option for employment?

In other proposed changes, on Friday afternoon, Labour announced that it would be putting forward a Bill to 'Monday-ise' public holidays.

A proposed change with a potential impact for an even wider group of employees - those who work Monday - Friday.

Even if passed, this Bill won't be passed in time to capture Waitangi Day this year, which for the second year in a row, falls on a weekend (Saturday 2010 and Sunday 2011). Its impact would be on future years.

Somewhat ironically, Waitangi Day 2012 will, in any event, fall on a Monday.

In fact, by my calculations, the next time this will make a difference for employees working Monday - Friday is 2015 for Anzac Day and 2016 for Waitangi Day.

We will have another election between now and then!

Is this a change that will make a difference to you - either as an employer or as an employee? Does the day on which it falls impact on your observance of the public holiday?

Bridget Smith is an employment lawyer at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts.

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