Key Concepts under the Employment Relations Act 09 Dec 2011

New Zealand's Employment Relations Act 2000 is designed to recognise and address the perceived inherent imbalance of power in the employment relationship by promoting collective organisation of employees and collective bargaining, through unions.

What is Good Faith Bargaining?

The Employment Relations Act 2000 has "good faith" as its central principle. Employers, employees and unions must deal with each other honestly and openly. The Act promotes good employment relations and good faith behaviour, which includes mutual obligations of trust and confidence between employers, employees and unions.  The government has issued a code of good faith which gives further guidance.  The current code of good faith can be found on the Department of Labour website.

So I want to employ someone on a fixed term agreement?

Under the old Employment Contracts Act many people were employed for a fixed time only. Under the Employment Relations Act before an agreement is made for a fixed term the employer must::- Have genuine reasons based on reasonable grounds for specifying the employment in that way.- Advise the employee of when and how the employment shall end.

It will now be much more difficult for employers to employ people for a limited period of time, for whatever reason. The true seasonal nature of fixing contracts will need to be justified.

What if I want to be on an individual agreement?

Employees who want to, may make an individual agreement. New employees who are not members of unions must be given written details of their terms and conditions and an opportunity to take advice before signing the agreement. All individual agreements must be in writing. This will mean work for employers (and maybe their lawyers), when employing new employees.

If there is a collective agreement in place at the workplace where an employee wishes to be on an individual agreement the individual agreement cannot be "inconsistent" with the collective agreement. What exactly the term "inconsistent" means will no doubt be a moot point.

De-legalising Employment Relationships
The minister has also made it plain that her aim is to de-legalise the employment relationship. This is seen in changes in terminology, such as the renaming of contracts as "Employment Agreements".  The major move to use standard mediation to solve employment relationship disputes is also part of this process. Some concerns have been raised at the extent of the powers that the mediators at the Department of Labour hold, and the manner in which they may exercise these powers.

Parry Field Lawyers are happy to answer queries regarding the Act.  Should you need any assistance with this, or with any other Employment matters, please contact Lois Flanagan (348-8480).