A bill extending employers' powers over workplace employees will be passed this week.

The Government's Employment Relations Amendment Bill is best known for its removal of guaranteed rest and meal breaks and the requirement to compensate workers for any restriction on them.

But critics say it will also undermine employees' ability to negotiate collectively, and will undermine hard-won employment conditions.

"It's a huge attack on collective bargaining," said Labour leadership contender and former unionist Andrew Little.


He said one of the more insidious measures was one allowing an employer to dock a worker's pay by 10 per cent for industrial action that is not a total withdrawal of labour even if there is no loss in productivity.

The bill also allows an employer to opt out of being part of a multi-employer collective agreement, even if the workforce has voted to be covered by one.

Its rest and meal breaks provision could affect every person on an employment agreement, Mr Little said.

"It hands complete control over to the employer, despite the employees' wishes.

"It goes against the grain of what people expect in modern employment relationships."

The law set down no statutory minimum for rest and meal breaks until 2008 when the last Labour Government introduced them.

The law now stipulates that employees are entitled to these breaks:

*One paid 10-minute rest break if the work period is between two and four hours.
*One paid 10-minute rest break and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if the work period is between four and six hours.
*Two paid 10-minute rest breaks and one unpaid 30-minute meal break if the work period is between six and eight hours.

The new law will say that employers are required to give employees rest and meal breaks or provide compensatory measures.

Labour Minister Michael Woodhouse said the move was aimed at providing flexibility, not taking away rights.

Situations in which he saw it applying were a sole operator at a petrol station, sole-charge air traffic controllers at small airports, or nurses on a night shift.

"I think we patronise employees by pretending they cannot negotiate with their employer for a fair outcome."

The bill was put on hold last term after Act MP John Banks resigned.

The Labour Party started an online petition last week to get a quick 40,000 signatures to show the strength of opposition to the bill.

What the bill does
Collective bargaining
The current requirement as a duty of good faith on unions and employers to conclude a collective agreement unless there is a genuine reason not to will be removed. It will allow a party to the bargaining to get a declaration from the Employment Relations Authority that the bargaining had concluded. If it is so declared, industrial action or new bargaining can be initiated within 60 days.

Multi-Employer Collective agreements
At present if a workforce votes to be covered under a multi-employer collective agreement (MECA), the employer must join the negotiations. The bill will allow employers to opt out of a MECA but opponents say it will undermine the sort of bargaining that has set industry standards.

30-day protection
The bill removes the requirement to offer new employees at least the same terms and conditions for 30 days of employees doing the same work as those covered by a union, even if the new employee does not belong to a union.

Strikes and lockouts
The bill ends open-ended strikes or lock-outs. Any group of employees, not just certain essential industries as is the case now, will have to give written notice of industrial action which must include a start and finish date, likewise for lock-outs by employers. The new law also gives employers the power to deduct 10 per cent of an employee's pay for partial strike action.

Rests and meal breaks
In 2008, minimum paid rest breaks and unpaid meal breaks were established in law. The new law removes the requirement to provide such breaks if restrictions are deemed reasonable and necessary having regard to the nature of the work, and employers would be required to provide a reasonable compensatory measure such as the equivalent time off.

Part 6A
At present, certain groups of vulnerable employees, such as cleaners, are protected when their work is about to be taken over due to restructuring. They have the right to transfer to the new entity taking over their work and to bargain for redundancy or have it set by the Employment Relations Authority. Under the new law, any company with less than 20 employees will be exempt from 6A. At present the classes of employees with the 6A protections can be changed by regulation but the new law removes such flexibility and any alteration must be made by Parliament with a change to the act.

Flexible work hours
The current law allows employees with caring responsibilities to request flexible work arrangements every 12 months and requires the employer to respond within three months. The new law extends the right to any employee. There will be no limit on requests but the employer must respond within a month.