Workers are the winners as far as the Labour Government's changes to employment laws are concerned, says Sherridan Cook, partner at Buddle Findlay law firm.

"The Government are reversing a number of the changes National put in place that made things more favourable for employers, as you would expect from a National Government. I don't think anyone is surprised by what Labour is proposing at this point."

Cook says he thinks the biggest impact will be restricting the 90-day trial periods back to companies with 20 employees or fewer.

"That's what it was when it was first introduced, and then it was expanded to all employers."


"My experience is the trial periods are being used quite widely now — they took some time to catch on but we've now had them for eight or nine years. It means now they won't be used for a large number of employees."

Cook says, "I don't think the 90-day trial has been exploited by employers in general — of course there is always exploitation at the margins and at very low levels. Unscrupulous employers will push the boundaries and go over them in a number of different areas.

"If you look at most Western countries — they do have some sort of trial system. There's weren't as long as our's was — so maybe we're following suit in some way."

Cook says it's "probably right" that smaller companies get to retain the trial period. "Bigger companies have the resources to be more thorough in recruitment drives than small companies do. They can access specialised recruitment and have HR Departments."

He says the move to keep trial periods for some came from NZ First.

Something else that has an impact is changes to collective bargaining.

"That will have a larger effect in the public sector as collective agreements in the private sector are running at about 9 per cent, while in the public they're at 50 per cent plus."

Cook says the biggest change will be the restoration of the duty to include bargaining unless there's a good reason not to.


"That's something that's been in and out of the legislation for a number of years. It's a bit of a political football. At the moment it allows employers to walk away from bargaining more easily.

"Once it's in place, it will mean that you may see some more protracted bargaining, because employers can't walk away. So it will be useful for unions to have that."

He says some of the other things that are to change were not largely used in the past. "There's the initiation timeframes. Unions used to have a head start to initiate bargaining, National changed that to the same time.

"It didn't have much of an impact, so I don't think changing it back will have much of an impact."

He says multi-employer collective agreements tend to be favoured by unions. "It means they spend less time bargaining and can get the same conditions from a number of employers in an industry. Allowing an employer to opt out of that, does run counter to that. So stopping the opt-out will strengthen the unions.

"But what I think will really strengthen unions in multi-employer bargaining will be the fair pay agreements that are going to be introduced some time in the future.


"The Minister has said what Labour is going to do is to put in place the machinery to allow for fair pay agreements to take place. I'm not sure what that machinery will eventually look like, but I think Labour is setting things up for this... "

He says the restoration of what's called the 30-day rule will benefit unions.

"It means employees are with unions for the first 30 days of employment, and then can move to individual contracts. Often people stay in the union.

"The workforce here don't necessarily want to get into the union, they are apathetic. If they're with it for 30 days, they're more likely to stay as they've seen the benefits of it."

Other changes that will affect the workplace include restoring rest and meal breaks.

"I'm not a fan of having prescriptive meal breaks — the employer and employee should be able to work it out. The unions are saying this is being exploited, but I think most employers know that employees do need breaks to be more productive."


He says in blue-collar industries they're more prescribed than in white collar ones.

"If you look at it from a health and safety perspective, it's good to have breaks.

"Those employers who are operating at a low level can't exploit their workers around not allowing them to take breaks. The legislation will support safety."

Changes around reinstatement after dismissal again will benefit employees.

"It's useful for employees to use it as a bargaining tool for a higher payout, even when they don't want to be reinstated."