The Government is embarking on a major shakeup of the workplace but business lobbies and unions have different views on whether the change is a good thing for New Zealand.


Changes to employment relations rules would mean increased compliance for employers but are reasonably pragmatic regarding the pressures on small firms, BusinessNZ said.

BusinessNZ chief executive Kirk Hope said many of the changes related to collective agreements and bargaining procedures, which would mostly affect larger businesses.


Most larger businesses would be equipped to cope with the changes that reverse some bargaining and collective agreement rules introduced by the previous Government.
Other changes more directly affected small business, he said.

Restricting the availability of 90-day trial periods to small businesses was a better outcome than removing them altogether, Hope said.

"Trial periods allow opportunities for an untried employee while reducing the 'unfair dismissal' risk to the employer of it not working out. This is a very real issue for small businesses.

"This decision shows the Government has an understanding of the needs and pressures facing small businesses and has been willing to alter policy to reflect those needs."

Reinstatement would be the primary remedy to an unfair dismissal.

"This will restore an onus on employer and employee to work positively together following a challenged dismissal process - perhaps a good discipline on both parties following an employment relations breakdown," Hope said.

BusinessNZ had appreciated the flexibility in relation to meal and rest breaks, which had allowed employers and employees to agree on when breaks could be taken, depending on the needs of the business.

"Changing to a more regulated approach isn't ideal for business agility, for example in manufacturing operations."


Employers' & Manufacturers' Association

The proposed changes to the employment relations legislation removed flexibility needed to compete internationally said the Employers' & Manufacturers' Association.

"We are part of the global economy. We need to be agile enough to remain competitive now and into the future. Flexible work arrangements, life-long learning and embracing technology all feed into growing our productivity," said EMA chief executive Kim Campbell.

That meant being able to negotiate workplace agreements which balanced the needs of employees and the operation, Campbell said.

"On the whole, our employers are good and recognise the importance of good workplace relations. The current framework for employers and employees to negotiate in good faith is clear, is robust and has worked well."

There were hefty penalties if an employer was found in breach of the Employment Relations Act 2000, "along with facing irreparable reputational damage".

The impact of some of the changes seemed to imply that there was an imbalance that needed to be addressed, Campbell said.

"For instance, we are pleased to see the 90-day trial period will remain in its current format for businesses with fewer than 20 employees. But for those with more than 20 it would be unfortunate if larger businesses now choose not to take someone on," he said.

"We know that 80 per cent of businesses have used this in the past year. Employers say the trial period enables them to give someone a chance.

"The worst outcome of the government's proposals would be if it made it more difficult for employers to recruit and retain staff. Rather, we want to see such changes enhance living standards by increasing productivity."

Council of Trade Unions

"This is a good start," says CTU President Richard Wagstaff.

"Most working people in New Zealand are aware that the playing field has been tipped away from them in the past decade..the industrial changes announced today start the process of returning to a better quality of life for us all.

"The changes being made, such as strengthened rights for people to bargain together and to get support from their union, will help increase security and well-being for them and their families.

But Wagstaff said it was wrong that the 90-day trial period, in his words the "fire-at-will law" has not been fully repealed.

"People working for a small business should have the same basic rights at work as all New Zealanders. This law doesn't deliver that."

"Nevertheless, in making the announcement today Jacinda Ardern has made it clear that her Government is committed to its vision for a better life for working people in New Zealand.

E tū

The Government was off to a "off to a flying start" with its Employment Relations Amendment Bill announced by the Government today.

E tū National Secretary Bill Newson say the changes "recognise the pressing concerns about the personal and economic cost of low wages and inequality".

"This Government has made fixing inequality a top priority. Wages are a huge factor in this, so strengthening the rights of workers and their unions is critical," he said.

"We see this bill as a big leap forward towards a fair and equitable society."