Working To Rule
By Kate Pierson
Our lives are democratically governed by an intricate web of civic laws and legislation. And despite the occasional frustrations that arise from fleeting feelings of imposition, the rational law abiding citizen in all of us knows their presence is not the result of a governmental ‘power trip’; it’s a fact of life that societal laws exist for a reason.
And, contrary to the convictions of one general Douglas MacArthur, who said laws are made to be broken, the reality is, they’re not; particularly when it comes to providing professional parameters for the world of business.
This means educating your organisation about the employment laws is imperative if your business is to stay above board. Furthermore, the evolutionary nature of the system means there’s often new changes and policies to absorb. “The nature of the labour market and the New Zealand economy is always changing. The modern world doesn’t stop,” Minister of Labour Kate Wilkinson advises.
“There will be someone working at any given hour of any given day and it’s important that employment law is flexible enough to cover these situations. For employers, this means they have to know exactly what their rights and responsibilities are, just as employees should.”
Business NZ chief executive Phil O’Reilly agrees New Zealand businesses want laws characterised by flexibility, simplicity and practicality. “Business have said they want less complexity, less process and more flexibility to get more productivity and workplace harmony.”
In recognition of this fact, the most recent changes to employment legislation in New Zealand were implemented by the National Government in July. Prime Minister John Key announced the amendments to the existing Employment Relations Act 2000, which include an extension of the 90-day trial period to enable all employers and new employees to have the chance to benefit from it.
“We are making a number of other changes to improve the Employment Relations Act, many in line with the National Party’s 2008 manifesto, including making union access to workplaces require employer consent — which cannot be unreasonably withheld,” Key says. “We are also implementing our promise to allow employees the choice to request the trade of their fourth week of annual leave for cash. This is alongside other changes to the Holidays Act to improve this area of the law.”
Commenting that these changes will encourage greater negotiation between employers and employees so they can reach mutually appealing agreements, Wilkinson says providing more opportunities and greater flexibility for New Zealanders is essential.
“In this day and age a lot of people work harder and longer so anything that can help achieve greater work-life balance is good. Employment law isn’t perfect. In some cases it can be complicated and we are constantly re-evaluating how specific provisions are working and whether they need to be amended in any way.”
For guidance and direction on the Employment Relations Act 2000, businesses can commission legal advice or alternatively, access information from the Department of Labour and organisations such as Business New Zealand, the Employers and Manufacturers Association or their local chamber of commerce.
For more information visit www.dol.govt.nz