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Employment Relations Bill FAQ

Employment Relations Bill

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What’s new about the Employment Relations Bill for me – as an employee?

A: A better balance and fairness in the workplace. You will be able to choose to be on an individual agreement or be covered by a collective agreement - whichever best serves your interests as you see them. You can choose to be a union member or not. Your right to be a union member or a non union member is equally respected under the Employment Relations Bill.

Q: What’s new about the Employment Relations Bill for me – as an employer?

A: All parties will be expected to behave in ‘good faith’ and both individuals and unions with collective agreements with an employer must abide by this throughout the employment relationship. A new mediation service will be available to employers as well as employees. The emphasis is on quick cost effective solutions to workplace problems. Legal costs are to be reduced through an avoidance of reliance on litigation to resolve workplace problems.

Q: How different is the ERB’s approach?

A: The emphasis will be on the continuing employment relationship, not just on a narrow legal contract of employment. A new mediation service will be available at all stages of any problem between employee and employer and to assist parties in negotiations to reach agreement. Mediation will be accessible, informal, effective and as close as possible to the dispute. Legalistic processes should be reduced. As part of the new relationship all parties in the workplace are bound by good faith.

Q: What do I do if I have a workplace problem?

A: As employers or employees you will be able to access a specialised new mediation service and get advice about your rights and responsibilities and assistance in resolving the problem. Personal grievances will be dealt with. Reinstatement will be the primary remedy for unjustified dismissals. If you cannot solve the problem at this level you can go to the Employment Relations Authority which will investigate the matter and determine it. Access from the Authority to the Employment Court will be available.

Q: What does ‘good faith bargaining’ mean in practical terms?

A: Good faith in bargaining will require that the parties meet, consider and respond to each other’s proposals, respect each other’s choice of representative, and provide information necessary for the purposes of the negotiations. It will not include a requirement to reach an agreement. Good faith also must be part of the whole employment relationship and must be demonstrated in fair and honest dealings amongst individuals in the workplace. A Code of Good Faith for bargaining will be developed through consultation amongst unions, employers and the Government.

Q: What role do unions have in the new system?

A: The Bill promotes union involvement in collective bargaining and encourages them to become a valued party in the workplace. They are enabled to take a pro-active role in recruiting members and must remain accountable and responsive to their members. Unions must also operate in good faith to support and promote productive employment relationships. They must be registered by the Registrar of Unions, be incorporated societies with a minimum of two members and be independent of employers. They must also be financially accountable to their members, operate under democratic rules, provide appropriate information and otherwise prove their worth to members.

Q: What sort of collective bargaining is available?

A: A range of collective bargaining options will be available – single employer, multi-employer or multi-union agreements will be possible, and there will be provision for other parties to join the process. Bargaining may be initiated by a union within 60 days expiry of an existing collective agreement, by an employer within 40 days of the expiry and by either party where there is no collective agreement currently in place.

Q: Who can benefit from a collective agreement?

A: Union members are bound by a collective agreement. If you are not a union member but want to benefit from a union-negotiated collective agreement you can join the union and be covered at any time. If you leave your union you can renegotiate your terms and conditions with your employer but cannot benefit from another collective agreement until 60 days before the existing collective agreement expires. If their work is covered by a collective agreement in the workplace, a new employee’s terms and conditions will be based on those of the collective agreement for the first 30 days of their employment, during which time the employee can join a union and opt into the union-negotiated agreement. After 30 days, if the employee has not joined the union the new employee can opt out and negotiate their own deal with the employer. Employers can benefit from collective agreements in administrative simplicity and less legal and other negotiations cost.

Q: Can I still have an individual agreement?

A: Yes. You are free to negotiate one with your employer if an individual agreement suits you best.

Q: Do I have to join a union?

A: No. The choice is yours. You can join a union if you want to but you don’t have to if you don’t want to do so.

Q: What about strikes and lock-outs?

A:. Strikes and lockouts are possible during the negotiation of a new collective agreement but there is a 40 day strike-free and lockout-free period at the beginning of bargaining. Strikes and lockouts are permitted in pursuit of multi-union or multi-employer agreements. It is unlawful to employ replacement labour during strikes and lockouts except where health or safety is threatened. The right of employers to suspend workers without pay where normal work is not available because of a strike or lockout will remain. In essential services there will be a requirement to give notice of any strike or lockout action and to undertake mediation in an effort to resolve the dispute.

Q: Where does this approach put us internationally?

A: We live in a globalised economy in which we are expected to compete. We are part of that international marketplace. This means we must build an employment relations system which encourages business ingenuity, profitability and productivity. Creating a more balanced employment system also means complying with minimum employment standards regulated by the International Labour Organisation. The Employment Relations Bill will put us in a position to be able to clear breaches of ILO conventions under the ECA. The Bill will promote observance of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and the Right to Organise and Convention 98 on the Application of the Principles of the Right to Organise and Bargain Collectively.

Q: How do unions and employers negotiate collectively?

A: Under the ERB a variety of types of collective bargaining arrangements can be made. These include single employer-single union agreements, single employer–multi union agreements, single union-multi-employer and multi-union–multi-employer agreements. Either an employer or a union can initiate collective bargaining – unions within 60 days of expiry of an existing collective agreement and employers within 40 days. In multi-party bargaining unions can do so within 120 days of the expiry of an existing collective agreement and employers within 100 days of expiry. The good faith requirements will apply to all parties involved in collective bargaining.

Q: What about essential industries?

A: The ERB retains essential industries and the current 3 and 14 day notice periods before strike or lockout action can be taken where health and safety issues are involved. Good faith requirements continue through the notice period. There will be a duty to inform the mediation service as soon as possible during the notice period so that mediation can be undertaken.

Q: Is this a return to the past?

A: No. The Government’s approach recognises we cannot go back. The Employment Relations Bill places an emphasis on both individual agreements and collective agreements. It allows diverse negotiating and bargaining arrangements to suit today’s diverse employment conditions. It looks to the future by emphasising new requirements like good faith bargaining, mediation and employment-relations education so everyone knows their rights, choices and responsibilities. This about returning balance to the workplace so that those who wish to benefit from an individualistic approach can do so and those who have not benefited from this approach can seek collective redress through a union of their choice. The Government intends there will also be a revised minimum code detailing holidays, minimum wage and other entitlements as part of a package of reforms in the workplace.

Q: When does the Employment Relations Bill come into force?

A: When passed into law by Parliament. A special select committee will be set up to accept public submissions and report back to Parliament. It is hoped the Employment Relations Act will come into effect in July 2000.

Q: What about transitional arrangements until the new system is up and running?

A: Individual contracts under the ECA are deemed to be individual agreements under the ERB.
Collective employment contracts will continue in force with the expiry date set out in them or within three years of commencement of the Employment Relations Act. Where union members have been balloted parties may agree to the old collective employment contract expiring on 1 July 2001. Those employees who are covered by the old collective employment contract but who are not union members may transfer onto an individual agreement on 1 July 2001 which will be based on the terms and conditions of the old collective contract.
The Employment Tribunal will be replaced by the Employment Relations Authority. During the transition, cases that rose under the ECA will continue to be dealt with by the Tribunal, which will become operational from 1 November 2000.
The Employment Court continues as a specialist employment jurisdiction under the ERB.

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