The proposed employment law changes

I am pleased about the government’s proposed changes to the Employment Relations Act.

These initial changes are  mostly just reversing the reductions in rights for workers and unions made by the previous National government.

While these changes will make the unions job a little bit easier it will not significantly enhance workers power.
Changes that could potentially do that are planned for later this year and next year. The Labopur Party has promised to reinstate the ability of unions to negotiate to end wage inequality for women and is looking at mechanisms to have minimum standards established for whole industries that have in the past ceased to be covered by union collective agreements. These are also potentially much more expensive and will threaten the “fiscal responsibility” rules the government has imposed on itself.
The employment relations changes that are being proposed to happen over the next few months include:

• Restoration of statutory rest and meal breaks.

• Reinstatement will be restored as the primary remedy to unfair dismissal.

• Further protections for employees in the “vulnerable industries”

• Restoration of the duty to conclude bargaining unless there is a good reason not to.

TDB Recommends

• Removal of the MECA opt out where employers can refuse to bargain for a multi-employer collective agreement.

• Restoration of the 30-day rule where for the first 30 days new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement.

• Repeal of partial strike pay deductions where employers can garnish wages for low-level industrial action.  Employers have deducted pay for actions such as wearing t-shirts instead of uniforms.

• Restoration of union access without prior employer consent.

New proposals are:

• A requirement to include pay rates in collective agreements.  This is based on recent case law. Pay rates may include pay ranges or methods of calculation.

• A requirement for employers to provide reasonable paid time for union delegates to represent other workers (for example in collective bargaining)

• A requirement for employers to pass on information about unions in the workplace to prospective employees along with a form for the employee to indicate whether they want to be a member.

• Greater protections against discrimination for union members.

One disappointing decision was maintaining the right of small and medium-sized companies with less than 20 employees to continue use 90-day trials with the right to dismiss. This covers about 30% of workers but they are also often already the more vulnerable ones.

Achievements of Unite need recognising

In this blog I also want to note a few achievements of Unite Union over the last 15 years.

I want to do this because these achievements are worth celebrating in their own right.

They have been noted to a degree internationally. Unite representatives have been invited to conferences of unions and political movements in Australia, Brazil, US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Finland over the last few years and have spoken to meetings of members of parliament in four different countries.

Yet we have never been invited to speak to an academic or union conference in New Zealand – including the ones that claim to be left wing. Nor have we been invited to conferences of political parties other than one or two ‘far left” groups.

I was reminded by this because the “6th International Conference on Precarious Work and Vulnerable Worker” is being held in Auckland next week. It is a fascinating programme with many interesting speakers but it has a gap – especially since NZ is the host country – what Unite has done to challenge and overcome precarious work in some of the biggest industries using it.

On one level, I don’t care. I hate to sound like I am whining. I am happy for Unite to be judged on what we do not what we say. But I have come to a conclusion that there is a class bigotry in operation that is disrespectful to the tens of thousands of young workers who have joined Unite and fought heroic battles over the last 15 years which have achieved the results listed below.

  • 50,000 young workers joining Unite. We need to recruit 4000 members a year to maintain our current size of 7000 members.
  • Gaining collective employment agreements in all the major fast food chains – including McDonald’s that cover tens of thousands of workers.
  • We are the only union in the world to have collective agreements with McDonald’s and other fast food companies where the law of that country does not force them to do so.
  • We are the only country to have collective agreements in the fast food industry where membership is completely voluntary.
  • We got rid of youth rates in the fast food industry and were part of a broader campaign that got rid of youth rates for most workers. In the UK youth rates apply to age 25, and in Australia to age 21.
  • We defeated zero hour contracts in the fast food industry and were instrumental in getting them outlawed through a unanimous vote of the NZ parliament under a right-wing National Party-led government.
  • Unite was the first union to identify the widespread theft of annual leave entitlements by almost all employers of workers with irregular hours. We initiated legal action against McDonald’s before MBIE, the government agency responsible, admitted that the problem was widespread and up to several billion dollars was owed to hundreds of thousands of workers in compensation.

For those who want to read a bit more about what Unite has done and how we did it see:

A Short History of Unite Union

How Unite took on fast food companies on zero hour contracts and won


  1. Mike this is a start but should be universally accepted across all jobs not some and not others.

    A job is a job.

    • “This is the first round of employment law changes that this government plans to make. It is the first steps towards reversing 30 years of working people having their rights diminished and losing their fair share of a growing economy”

      Workplace Relations Minister Iain Lees-Galloway

      Bottom line.

      Changes will occur in steps, over time. It was never going to be an all or nothing in one big swoop. It’s a coalition government. Patience is required. I’m just thankful and grateful that change has begun.

  2. Evidently the removal of the 90 day trial period for companies employing under 20 people was stopped by NZ First, after lobbying by corporates. This does not bode well for winston Peters and his speech to give capitalism a more “Human face”. If winston wants to align with business rather then workers, it may find its electoral support evaporate.

    • “. If winston wants to align with business rather then workers, it may find its electoral support evaporate.”

      Winston may find himself having to explain why he doesn’t think workers in SMEs deserve the same union protection as workers in larger companies.

      Questions like that usually come out at inconvenient times. Like election year.

  3. We went from a nanny state to a police state. And our NZ police were happy to do the national governments dirty work. While at the same time neglecting the NZ public the new Minister of police needs a big broom to clean out the rot and racism that has been fermenting.

  4. I remember when we had union negotiated collective agreements that we called “awards”.
    In awards there were nearly always special provisions allowing individual workers (by agreement) to opt out of some award clauses such as minimum pay rates, grading, etc. when it was recognised it would be advantageous for both parties.
    It didn’t apply to many workers but it worked well in covering situations where it was agreed that it would be advantageous to both parties.
    So much for the rabid right’s claim that employment conditions should reflect individual needs.
    We used to have that but they got rid of it.
    That’s why we shouldn’t listen to their pathetic hypocritical whingeing.

  5. Speaking of mandated meal breaks, does anyone else remember when Jami-Lee Ross threw a wobbly that would have embarrassing for two-year old just because a session of parliament sat 5 minutes past the start time of its official lunch hour?

  6. Yes, Mike, it is only a start, we need to restore workers rights across the country, after the Nats attacked workers’ rights in a massive way.

  7. “One disappointing decision was maintaining the right of small and medium-sized companies with less than 20 employees to continue use 90-day trials with the right to dismiss. This covers about 30% of workers but they are also often already the more vulnerable ones.”

    That was my thoughts as well.

    Large companies have HR policies in place (even if they don’t always follow them to the letter), while small/medium companies are run by individuals , some of who can have a mighty big chip on their shoulders.

    Having said that, the disgusting actions taken by Ports of Auckland showed how bad big companies can be as well. POAL’s actions even included using Cameron bloody Slater as their propaganda mouthpiece.

    So removing the 90 Day trial period should cover ALL employers, not just the bigger ones.

  8. Frank,

    Steve is not to blame I fear.

    He is a product and a classic case of the “rogernomics era,” as he would’ve been in his 20’s when he was entering the workforce and was probably exposed and trained to steal any advantage from anywhere in a “dog eats dog” world of Douglass era.

    It shows his thinking now in which he resembled the same rational of taking the law into his own hands too as Douglas did.

    This happend to Douglas when the whole NZ population raised up angry to such a level of rage with Douglas as he was closing down all the freezing works and factories during his rationalization program that he publicly admitted to being in such fear that he slept with a shotgun under his bed thus taking over the job of the police as Steve says he did too.

    Yes Steve is a classic demonstration of what the mean cold hard system under both Douglas and Key with both their “undeclared austerity programs” did to change the young into a rough and tumble lot since we lost our prized Egalitarian society the we both grew up under and loved so dearly.

    Sad to see this Frank my brother.

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