New Zealand’s Employment Relations Act 2000 aims to build productive employment relationships through the promotion of mutual trust and confidence in all aspects of the employment environment.
How does the Employment Relations Act work?
Underpinning the Act is the obligation on all parties to employment relationships to deal with each other in good faith. Simply, they must not mislead or deceive each other.
Individual Employment Agreements
The Act sets out the minimum terms and conditions of employment. Individual agreements fall into two categories:
1. Where the employee is a member of a union, but still wishes to have an individual agreement; and
2. Where a new employee is not a member of a union.
If the employee is a union member, and bound by a collective agreement, then the individual agreement must not be in conflict with the collective.
An individual employment agreement must now be in writing and must include certain terms and conditions which are set down in the Act. An employer must provide an employee with a copy of an intended agreement and advise the person that he or she is entitled to seek independent advice, and give a reasonable opportunity for this.
One of the aims of the new Act is ‘to recognise that, in resolving employment relationship problems, access to both information and mediation services is more important than adherence to rigid formal procedures.’ The aim is to enable the parties to settle their employment relationship problems informally and flexibly themselves.
All matters appropriate for mediation are dealt with that way. If attempts at mediation are unsuccessful, the matter may then proceed to the Employment Relations Authority. It has very wide powers to carry out investigations and to make decisions. If the party is not happy with the Authority’s determination, then that can be challenged in the Employment Court.
Mediation services are provided free by the Department of Labour. In Christchurch there are 13 mediators who work towards resolving disputes referred to them. These mediators are user friendly, helpful and professional, yet will not seek to impose a resolution on the parties. If the parties reach a settlement, one of the mediators can sign the agreed terms of settlement which then becomes binding on the parties.
Employment Relations Authority
The Authority is intended to function as an informal, but efficient, forum for determining legal issues. It has very wide powers and the intention is to enable problems to be dealt with at the lowest possible level at the first instance, and as quickly as possible. The New Zealand Department of Labour describes the operation of the Authority as being able to take greater control of the proceedings and to get to the nub of an employment problem.
There have been some major changes, for example, whether a dismissal for a redundancy is fair or justifiable, has been redefined yet again. There appear to be just as many employment relationship problems appearing but the new process of mediation is proving user friendly, quicker and less costly to all parties.
Parry Field continues to provide advice for both employers and employees, and is happy to discuss any matters relating to employment agreements or employment relationship problems.
Should you need any assistance with this, or with any other Employment matters, please contact Lois Flanagan at Parry Field Lawyers (348-8480).