All small businesses want for Christmas is ... the promised 90-day probation period for hiring people.
In an online survey of its clients this week, business coaching network The Results Group asked companies what they considered would make a significant difference to their operations in 2009.
Within hours over 90 SMEs had responded, and virtually all put the new National Government's policy of a three-month employee trial period at the top of their list.
When rolled out, the trial period will allow businesses with fewer than 20 staff to dismiss new staff members within 90 days, and avoid claims of unjustified dismissal.
The policy is not part of Prime Minister John Key's 100-day plan, but Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said it was a priority.
"There's only so much you can do in the first hundred days, and especially with the intervening Christmas period we have to be realistic."
She promised action "definitely within six months".
She was not surprised by the results of the survey, saying New Zealand was out of step with other OECD countries which mostly had probationary periods.
She said it was particularly important in the current troubled economic times to give businesses a boost.
"It certainly reinforces the need for a commonsense policy like this that does give confidence to businesses to employ people, but also gives opportunities to employees to get their foot in the employment door."
Managing director of the Results Group, Ben Ridler, said companies generally wanted the Employment Relations Act overhauled.
"This is a big thing for business now that they're really feeling the pinch.
"It only takes a couple of bad hires to kill a small business, so this flexibility is urgent."
He said some companies forced to get rid of an unsuitable employee had been scared off by the costs, and would not expand.
He said the new policy would allow employers the opportunity to take a punt, and hire where they otherwise wouldn't.