Within its first 100 days, the new Labour-led coalition Government has honoured its commitments to put through what is sees as essential amendments to employment legislation.
The Government is promising additional employment law reforms aimed at restoring key minimum standards and protections for employees, and promoting fairness and productive employment relationships. So far, the national discussion has focused primarily on trial periods and rest and meal breaks – both issues of importance to us.
The aim of the breaks part of the legislation is to give employees enough time to rest, refresh, and eat during working hours, and be able to continue to work safely. The Employment Relations Amendment Bill acknowledges that there are limited circumstances where, for safety reasons, it will not be possible to provide breaks in this way. This gives a narrow exception for those businesses that are defined as providing an essential service, where the continuity of the service is critical to the public interest, and the cost of replacing the employee with a person sufficient to cover the break is deemed unreasonable.
However, as part of this category, it is disappointing that our Air Traffic Control (ATC) members, in particular, will continue to be denied the right to take toilet breaks. There is no provision to provide for an effective alternative to what we see as one of the most basic human rights.
Although we understand that the compromise around the 90-day trial employment period is a price of coalition politics, its remains a concern that a large portion of our membership will still have the threat of so-called ‘fire at will’ provisions hanging over their employment. We’ll continue to advocate for this provision, at the very least, to be used fairly and not abused by employers, particularly in the GA sector.
For NZALPA and its members, some of the other key legislative amendments being proposed will be the re-introduction of emphasis on reinstatement for workers who have been unjustifiably dismissed and a range of reforms designed to promote and strengthen collective bargaining - including restoring the duty to conclude a collective agreement; providing coverage of new employees under collective agreements for the first 30 days, and removing the ability of employers to opt out of multi-employer bargaining.
A number of these new provisions are exciting, such as providing new employees with information about the union and being given the choice to join a union. It was particularly pleasing to see the inclusion of the proposal to recognise paid time for union representatives assisting their members – something our advocate, Tom Buckley, has been lobbying for, for some time. This proposal will be of great assistance to NZALPA, especially for our GA representatives who do not have access to our unique ‘leave bank’ resources.
These changes are a measure of correction of the erosion of union rights over the past 9 years. The promotion of collective bargaining in the new legislation will help unions provide increased coverage and collective voice, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our workforce.
What else can we expect in employment reforms under the new Government? Labour has also drawn a private member’s bill to deal with triangular employment arrangements (which we have increasingly seen in European operators where there are three-way contractual relations between workers, an employer, and one or more third parties). We can also expect proposals later this year around Fair Pay Agreements.
These issues will be on the agenda for our meeting this month at the Beehive with the new Minister of Transport, Hon Phil Twyford. This begins our formal dialogue with Cabinet ministers whose portfolio areas affect our members. Although we might not always agree on everything, we will continue to foster close working relationships and discussion in the Capital as we do with our other important stakeholders, upholding NZALPA’s stated and increasing role as the Voice of Aviation.