By: Amanda Douglas, Jack Stringer
On 6 December 2018, the Government passed its flagship Employment Relations Amendment Bill. 

The Bill seeks to restore a number of minimum standards and protections for employees, as well as strengthen collective bargaining and union rights in the workplace.  The majority of changes affecting employers will come into effect on 6 May 2019.  These changes include:

Trial Periods:  Only small to medium sized employers (being businesses employing fewer than 20 employees when the employment agreement is entered into) will be entitled to agree to a trial provision with a new employee.

Rest and Meal Breaks:  Employees will be entitled to rest and meal breaks at times and for durations prescribed under the Employment Relations Act.  Only certain employees working in particular industries will be exempt from the prescribed entitlements, allowing them to agree to alternative entitlements or compensation in lieu.

Union Delegates:  Union delegates will be entitled to be paid by their employer for reasonable time spent undertaking union activities during the employee’s normal hours of work.

Duty to Conclude Collective Agreements:  Employers and unions will be subject to a duty of good faith to conclude a collective agreement unless there is a genuine reason not to conclude the agreement.

Form and Content of Collective Agreements:  Collective agreements will be required to set out the rates of wages or salary payable to employees who are bound by the agreement.

New Employee Obligations:  Employers will be subject to new information-sharing obligations in respect of new employees who are not union members at the commencement of their employment.

Some amendments, such as that to the definition of wages under the Act, will come into effect immediately after the Bill receives the Royal Assent.  Wages will be defined to include amounts payable to an employee in respect of services provided to the employer for time, a piece of work, or by way of commission.
Other amendments to the Act will take effect six months from now.  These include the changes which will prohibit discrimination in relation to union membership and involvement in union activity.

As highlighted in our previous article, the changes in the Bill will be of significance for all employers.  Many employers may be concerned about the changes, and whether they will be compliant with the requirements of the Act when these changes come into effect.  Employers should review their employment agreements to ensure compliance with the changes.

If you are concerned about the effect these changes may have on your business, or for assistance with employment agreements, please feel free to get in touch with a member of our team.
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