National pushes through 90-day work law

Source: NZ Herald

By Peter Wilson

 Employment law changes which were fiercely fought by unions and the Labour Party have been passed by Parliament.

The 90-day trial period for new employees has been extended to all businesses, and workers will be able to cash in the fourth week of their annual leave.

The separate bills passed their third readings yesterday, both on votes of 64 to 56.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said the 90-day trial period, which previously applied to businesses with 20 or fewer employees, had been a success.

It was introduced soon after the 2008 election, amid strident union protest.

“Rather than have the sky falling in, as was hysterically proclaimed, employers of small and medium-sized businesses gained the confidence to hire new employees,” Ms Wilkinson said.

” Without the trial period, hundreds of New Zealand workers would not have the jobs they currently do have.”

Ms Wilkinson said employers wanted to invest and grow their businesses but didn’t want to face a personal grievance if they hired someone who turned out to be unsuitable.

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“They simply chose not to hire anyone. The 90-day trial has changed that.”

Labour MP Trevor Mallard, the party’s labour relations spokesman, said extending the trial period was “just a continuation of the National Party’s attack on the rights of wage and salary earners and their conditions”.

It would not help the economy and was being done for political and ideological reasons, he said.

“It weakens the processes around job security, extends the range of reasons for dismissal, restricts substantially the right to appeal, and restricts the right to reinstatement,” Mr Mallard said.

“This sort of attack drives down wages, it is a tool they are using.”

Ms Wilkinson said the law change allowing employees to cash in their fourth week of leave would give them greater choice and flexibility.

“Only the employee can make this request – if an employer does so they will be in breach of the Act.”

Under the law change, employees can ask to cash in their fourth week of leave and employers must consider requests within a reasonable time.

Employers don’t have to agree, and don’t have to give a reason for turning it down.

Labour MP Darien Fenton said it had taken unions 30 years to get a fourth week of annual leave. “The Government is advocating for longer hours at work … over time, it won’t be a fourth week of leave, it will be part of salary and we will have lost it.”

Another controversial measure in the bill is that it allows employers to ask for proof of illness after the first day of sick leave.

Ms Wilkinson said it would be used “very sparingly” and employers would have to pay for the proof.

“It is clear they will only request a medical certificate when they genuinely suspect someone of routinely pulling sickies,” she said.

National, ACT and United Future supported the bills which come into effect on April 1 next year.

Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party and the Progressive Party opposed them.


*90-day trial period to apply to all businesses.

*Workers able to cash in fourth week of annual leave.


By Peter Wilson