Way way back, during the 2011 election campaign, National made a promise to amend the Employment Relations Act 2000. Following what has proven to be a long-winded saga featuring criminal convictions, resignations, Kim Dotcom, and another election, those changes have finally passed. Whew!
During the last parliamentary term, in early 2013, the Government introduced the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which we have examined in past updates The Employment Relations Act Gets a Makeover and Legislation Update. In short, the Bill proposed changes to the duty of good faith, flexible working arrangements, rest and meal breaks, strikes and lockouts, and collective bargaining.
The Bill passed its first reading in June 2013 along ideological lines. From that point, it was spirited off to Select Committee, which dutifully produced a report in December 2013 recommending, by majority, that the Bill pass with some amendments. A second reading was then held, and it looked as if the Bill was on track to become law.
However, the Bill then ran into trouble in the form of an Act MP and some ‘anonymous’ donations. John Banks’ conviction and subsequent resignation from Parliament following Kim Dotcom’s contributions to his 2010 Auckland mayoral campaign meant that the Government could not assemble enough votes to get the Bill across the line.
Sent to the sidelines, the Bill remained on the periphery during the most recent election campaign. Unlike in 2011, changes to the Employment Relations Act were not an election issue – Dirty Politics drowned out everything else.
However, the election brought National an increased majority in Parliament. As such, the Bill was whisked off the sidelines and straight into the starting lineup as the first piece of legislation to be considered by the new Parliament. Having been debated by Parliament once again (including 12 further proposed amendments), the Bill moved into its third reading and was passed on 30 October, supported by National, Act and United Future and opposed by Labour, the Greens, NZ First and the Maori Party.
So what next for the Bill? It will soon go to the Governor General to receive the Royal assent. Once that happens, it will take effect four months later – so, in reality, the changes to the Employment Relations Act are likely to kick in in March/April next year.
While the changes to rest and meal breaks seem to have received all the attention this time, there are other significant changes, including to collective bargaining. If you would like further information, check out our earlier articles (links above) or feel free to give us a call.