The new Labour-led coalition government has signalled significant changes to employment law, which will increase protection for employees and will likely have an impact on employers and their businesses.
We summarise the key areas in which changes are expected in the very near future.
The new government intends to increase the adult minimum wage incrementally, from $15.75 to $16.50 p/h from 1 April 2018, with the goal to increase to $20 p/h by 2021. We expect further details about the government's intentions in this area will be announced in coming weeks.
90 day trial periods
Currently, employers are able to use 90 day trial periods for new employees. Provided the trial period complies with strict legal requirements, the employer can dismiss the employee at any time within the first 90 days of employment, without having justification or following due process.
The new government has indicated it will amend the law around trial periods to require employers to provide a reason for their employee's dismissal in the first 90 days, and allow a dismissal within the 90 days to be challenged through a new referee process, without lawyers involved. We understand decisions by the referee will be binding and not able to be appealed.
Paid parental leave
On 6 November, the government announced an increase to paid parental leave. From 1 July 2018, parents and primary caregivers will be entitled to 22 weeks paid parental leave, and from 1 July 2020, this will be extended to 26 weeks.
The change has cross-party support, but parliament is currently debating details, including whether there will be flexibility around both parents taking the leave at the same time.
Equal / fair pay
Last year, care and support workers celebrated the settlement of an equal pay claim that saw a significant increase in wages for these workers and introduced industry-wide parameters around payment based on qualifications and experience.
The previous government introduced the Employment (Equal Pay and Pay Equity) Bill to put in place guidelines around the making and settlement of similar future claims. The new government has announced that the National-led government's Bill has been scrapped, and will be replaced with "genuine opportunities for pay equity".
The government has also signalled the introduction of Fair Pay Agreements - collective agreements negotiated to set standards across an industry.
We expect changes to rules around collective bargaining; this will return strength to unions and their collective bargaining positions. In particular, it is expected that parties engaged in collective bargaining will be required to conclude a collective agreement. This reverses a law change by the previous government which allowed parties to seek a declaration that an agreement could not be reached.
As the above changes (and probably more) come into force, it will be important that you are aware of them, and update your documentation and processes to ensure compliance.
Our employment team are closely monitoring developments, and will keep you updated as they occur. If you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact Candice Murphy or Ashleigh Bennett.