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Employment Relations Law Reform

Hon Margaret Wilson
Minister of Labour

Employment Relations Law Reform
04 December 2003

An Employment Relations Law Reform Bill with key amendments to the Employment Relations Act and other relevant employment legislation has been introduced to the House, Labour Minister Margaret Wilson announced today.

The changes in the Bill arise from the Review of the Act announced in the 2002 Speech from the Throne, and are designed to strengthen the Employment Relations Act's key objectives of promoting good faith, collective bargaining and effective resolution of employment relationship problems.

Amendments are also proposed to protect employees in change of employer situations caused by the sale, transfer or contracting out of a business, and to update Equal Pay legislation.

Margaret Wilson said since the Employment Relations Act came into force just over three years ago it has encouraged fair dealing and a more balanced approach in the workplace.

"Gone are the days of treating employment relationships as nothing more than commercial contracts. The principle of good faith and recognition of the contributions made by employees and their unions to workplace productivity is now part and parcel of employment relationships.

"However, employment relationships do not stand still and neither should the legislative framework supporting them."

The operation of the Act has been closely monitored since its enactment to identify how its objectives have been given practical effect and what, if any, barriers exist to the realisation of those objectives, Margaret Wilson said.

"The Review of the Act has included case law, the experiences of practitioners, and findings from the Department of Labour's monitoring and evaluation activities. The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions and Business New Zealand, from whom I requested submissions, also raised specific points. I have carefully considered this information and matters raised by it in terms of Government policy for employment relations".

Margaret Wilson said there would be no return to compulsory unionism, compulsory arbitration or the national awards system.

"The approach remains one of free choice, flexibility and fairness to all, to reflect the diversity of workplace arrangements in the labour market and to support a more innovative economy."

The integrated package of legislative proposals will:

- codify relevant case law on the duty of good faith, clarify the nature of the duty, and provide for penalties for any breach;
- provide appropriate incentives for collective bargaining as well as provisions to discourage and penalise the undermining and avoidance of collective bargaining;
- increase the flexibility of delivery of mediation services, as well as removing identified barriers to the effectiveness of the investigatory processes of the Employment Relations Authority;
- provide protections for employees in change of employer situations
restate the right of all employees to equal pay as an element of good faith behaviour and update the means of enforcement of this right; and
- provide more effective delivery of employment relations education in order to encourage greater knowledge of, and commitment to, productive employment relationships in the workplace.

Margaret Wilson said the amendments complement other changes to legislation governing minimum employment standards - such as Paid Parental Leave, Health and Safety in Employment and Holidays legislation - all of which contribute to wider Government objectives for a more productive and equitable society and economy.

"I would like to extend special thanks to Business New Zealand and the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, both of whom made submissions to the Review.

"While I doubt the changes will meet all of the preferences of either group, I consider they represent a good balance of practical and realistic measures that will strengthen the Act and further promote positive employment relationships. I encourage unions and employers to reflect on the changes announced today and make submissions to the select committee in due course, so the proposals can be further improved to contribute to a more effective employment relations framework for all New Zealanders," Margaret Wilson said.

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