The Government will scrap the controversial 90-day trial for all but small businesses, as a result of lobbying from New Zealand First.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will announce the first tranche of employment law reforms today, including 15 measures that it promised in its 100-day plan.

The Herald understands that the 90-day trial period for new workers will only be available to businesses with fewer than 20 employees. All employers will still be able to use probationary periods, which unlike 90-day trial periods do not allow unjustified dismissal.

According to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, 29 per cent of all workers work for businesses with fewer than 20 employees; 97 per cent of all enterprises have fewer than 20 employees.


Labour had campaigned on allowing trial-period workers to challenge a dismissal, which would then be decided by a referee service within three weeks, with a $5000 payout cap and no right of appeal.

Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said that would no longer be the case.

"What we will announce will be quite different to that. That's a result of our negotiations with NZ First."

Three aspects of the Government's 100-day manifesto have been given longer timeframes. They are:

• Restoring the right of film and television workers to collectively bargain
• Removing the automatic passing on of collective terms and conditions to non-union workers
• Providing foreign workers working for foreign companies in New Zealand the same protections, such as minimum wage rights, as New Zealand workers.

Lees-Galloway has previously announced a joint working group to work through the issues around the so-called "Hobbit law" in the film and television industry, but they were not expected to be resolved by the 100-day deadline.

He said the automatic passing on of terms and conditions had technical issues and was now in the 12-month programme.

The Government still wanted to ensure foreign workers in New Zealand had employment protections, a response to Chinese engineers who came to New Zealand to work on locomotives purchased from China, but who were not paid properly.


"We're looking at a different way of achieving that rather than legislation," Lees-Galloway said, adding that he was confident of resolving any issues the policy may raise around free-trade deals.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will front the announcement today, which will roll back a number of measures that were introduced by the previous Government.

Under the new law, a worker will:

• have guaranteed rest and meal breaks
• engage in low-level industrial action without the threat of pay deductions
• have the right to the same conditions as other workers on a collective agreement, if you're a new worker
• have guaranteed pay and conditions, if you're a vulnerable worker and your employer changes

A union will be able to:
• reasonably access a workplace to initiate collective bargaining
• be given reasonable time in a workplace to conduct its duties
• have a duty, along with the employer, to reach an agreement, unless there is a genuine reason not to

Restoring rest and meal breaks would reverse a change in 2015 that allowed employers to specify when breaks were taken, or get rid of them if they had a good reason.

Lees-Galloway said the new rules around rest and meal breaks will include exceptions for workplaces such as air traffic controllers, where it was not practical for workers to take breaks at the same time.

"[The bill] sets some very tight criteria. Very few businesses will qualify, but it tries to address exactly the issue raised by air traffic controllers."​

The bill aimed to strengthen collective bargaining, lift union numbers and ultimately lift wages, as part of a wider Government programme.

"For the last 30 years, working people have received a diminishing share of economic growth, and we're trying to restore some balance," Lees-Galloway said.

"It is certainly my hope that by giving unions more tools to be able to better represent their members and bargain for better wages that the proposition of joining a union will look a lot better."

Other workplace polices have already been put into law, such as lifting the minimum wage to $16.50 an hour by April, and extending paid parental leave to 26 weeks by 2020.

The Government still plans to abolish youth rates, but that is in the body of work to be completed in the next 12 months, along with industry-wide Fair Pay Agreements.