Labour leader Andrew Little has indicated his party has changed its position and now backs controversial 90-day trials periods for new employees - although he has signalled changes to make them "fairer" for workers.

Speaking after a business breakfast hosted by the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce, Mr Little was asked about the 90-day trials, and he said Labour's policy was to add a "fairness requirement".

"The principle thing is, on the 90-day trial thing, every business owner I talk to about having to give feedback to someone under a trial, they all say, 'Yeah, but I do that already'.

"So there won't be any new onerous obligation in that regard. But it will make it fair and we want to write that into the law."


Asked if his comments meant that the trial periods - previously opposed by Labour - would remain in a Government under his leadership, he said they would.

"We wouldn't be talking about making the 90-day trial period fairer if we were going to get rid of it...the 90-day trail thing is there, we want to make it fair."

In January, Mr Little said in his first state of the nation speech as leader that small business - "the engine room of job growth" - would be a priority for Labour as it developed policy over the next two years.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, Mr Little would not be drawn on changes to Labour policies that small businesses might oppose such as abolishing the 90-day trial period for new workers and increasing the minimum wage.

He was more forthright in a press release in June last year, when as the spokesman on labour issues he stated, "we don't need the 90-day law and under Labour it will go".

"The reality is we had, and still have, a perfectly good law that allows probationary periods but which require an employer to give feedback and notify the worker if they are not meeting the required standard," Mr Little said in the June 2014 press release.

Before he entered Parliament in 2011, Mr Little was the head of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) for eleven years.

A spokeswoman for the union said national secretary Bill Newson was in an all-day meeting and unavailable for comment.


CTU president Helen Kelly said the union could accept Labour keeping 90-day trials if they introduced "just cause" provisions to allow personal grievances.

"There is a probationary period in the Employment Relations Act already, which says that during a three-month period you [the employer] can have high expectations, set them out, and if they don't meet them you can dismiss them fairly.

"And if you dismiss them unfairly they can take a personal grievance. And we would expect that to come through consultation and be Labour's final policy - removing the provisions that say you can be sacked for nothing.

"That's actually what's happening. That regardless of how you perform in the first 90 days, if the employer just doesn't like the cut of your jib or their niece needs a job or whatever, they can just get rid of you."

Mr Little this evening told the Herald that the party had always accepted the need for some employers to trial workers, but the law that National had introduced was "grossly unfair" and Labour would change it to "restore fairness".

"But because there were two laws - a trial period law, and a probationary period law, we will look at both and make sure that what we have allows employers to try out workers, chose them fairly, and there is one consistent law across the two."

Asked if he wanted to introduce "just cause" provisions as sought by the CTU, Mr Little said there were "a whole heap of things" that would be looked at to restore the fairness requirements in the law.