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New Zealand to get new employment laws from 6 March 2015

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By James Sanders, Lawyer, MST Lawyers

As many of MST Lawyer’s clients have a presence in New Zealand, we take this opportunity to update you in relation to incoming changes to the Employment Relations Act 2000 (‘Act’). The Act is the key piece of employment legislation in New Zealand, and is akin to the Fair Work Act 2009 in Australia.

 The Employment Relations Amendments Bill received royal assent on 6 November 2014, and the key changes to the Act, which are summarised below, will come into effect on 6 March 2015.

 Good Faith

 Currently under the Act, employers do not have to disclose confidential information, which is relevant to a decision that is likely to have an adverse effect on an employee’s employment, if there is a good reason to maintain the confidentiality of the information. 

 This entitlement will be removed from the Act, and an employer will now only be able to withhold information:

  1. that is about an identifiable individual, other than the affected employee, if providing access to that information would involve the unwarranted disclosure of the affairs of that other individual; 
  2. that is subject to a statutory requirement to maintain confidentiality; or
  3. where it is necessary, for any other good reason, to maintain the confidentiality of the information (eg to protect the employer’s commercial position).

Flexible Working Requests

 All employees will now have the right to request flexible working arrangements at any time. This right currently only sits with employees who have caring responsibilities.

 Employers must respond to any request within 1 month. There will be no limits on the number of requests an employee can make.

 Transferring Employees

 Currently, the Act provides protection for employees who are employed in sectors in which restructuring occurs frequently. These employees can elect to transfer to the new employer on the same terms and conditions they hold with their current employer, or bargain for redundancy.

 The new amendments will limit this entitlement by excluding new employers who have 19 or fewer employees. This is offset by the introduction of the ability by an affected employee to raise a personal grievance against, and impose notification requirements on, the current employer.

 Transferring employee’s annual leave/sick leave

 Costs associated with service-related entitlements (eg sick leave and annual leave) of transferring employees will now be apportioned between the current and new employer. If the employers cannot reach an agreement, then the costs will be apportioned as follows:

  •  The current employer is liable for costs they would have to pay if the employee had ceased employment before the restructuring occurred (e.g. annual leave).
  • The new employer assumes responsibility for the costs of any service-related entitlements not payable on termination (e.g. sick leave or bereavement leave).

Collective Bargaining  

Changes to collective bargaining are coming into effect in the following areas:

  1. The right to stop bargaining;
  2. The right to Initiating bargaining;
  3. Withdrawing from an agreement which contains multiple employers; and
  4. Determinations by the Employment Relations Authority that bargaining has concluded.

30 day rule

For the first 30 days’ of employment, the terms and conditions of a new employee’s employment, who is not a member of a union, will no longer automatically be that of any collective agreement which is in force and covers their position.

If you would like any further information on the above changes to the New Zealand law, please contact the MST Lawyers Employment law and Workplace Safety team by email workplace@mst.com.au or by telephone +61 8540 0200.