Election 2020: What employers need to know

The workplace is facing some major changes, pending the outcome of Saturday's election

Election 2020: What employers need to know

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has made headlines around the world for leading New Zealand through the devastating terrorist attack in Christchurch, a volcanic eruption, and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ardern rose to power in 2017 after cutting a coalition deal with Winston Peters' New Zealand First Party.

She’s now on track to win her second election, with the latest TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll putting Labour on 47%, the Nationals on 32%, ACT on 8% and the Greens with 6%.

However, standing in her way is the leader of the National Party, Judith Collins, whose political heroes range from Hilary Clinton to Margaret Thatcher.

If Collins pulls off a victory, her National party will make several changes to the Employment Relations Act, accusing Labour’s policies of crippling businesses as they battle the recession by “piling the costs on”.

To that end, HRD has explored the policies of both major parties which are likely to transform the workplace.

Sick leave entitlements
Labour has promised it will double workers' sick leave entitlements from five to 10 days a year and is committing to making the change within its first 100 days.

Labour’s workplace relations & safety spokesperson Andrew Little said that to maintain healthy workplaces and to prevent the spread of COVID, all workers must be able to take sick leave while self-isolating

"The costs to the economy of going into lockdown far outweigh the costs of employees staying home sick."

Read more: Jacinda Ardern proposes four-day working week

Sherridan Cook, partner, Buddle Findley, told HRD that some employers may be unhappy with this policy because employees might treat sick leave like annual leave.

“Employees might see it as another five days a year that they can take,” he said.

“If an employer suspects an employee is not actually sick it can be a difficult thing to prove.

“If an employee says that they are unwell and call in sick for a day then it’s going to be difficult for the employer to prove otherwise. And, provided the employee uses only their 10 days, then it’s going to be difficult for employers to take any steps to prevent that.”

Labour also committed to simplifying the Holidays Act which it says has failed to provide consistent leave entitlements or provide adequate leave for new workers. They said they would:

• Introduce legislation to simplify employers' leave calculations.

• Allow employees to take sick and annual leave when needed, and their leave would accrue over time instead of becoming available as a block when they reach 6 and 12 months' employment.

• Allow employees to take bereavement and family violence leave as needed.

Minimum wage
Labour also announced they would be increasing the minimum wage, saying it would take a "balanced approach" so the lowest-paid workers could benefit from economic growth "while also ensuring employers can continue to grow and provide stable employment".

According to Labour, by raising the minimum wage to $20 an hour it will give full-time workers on minimum wage an extra $44 a week, or $2,288 a year, before tax.

Labour said this will not only mean that workers receive a fair day’s pay for their hard work, it will put more money in the back pocket of New Zealanders and help boost the economy.

However, the Nationals argue that increasing the minimum wage and sick leave entitlements showed "how out of touch" Labour was with small businesses.

"Modern employers have bought in flexible working practices to ensure their workers' welfare and wellbeing,” said Collins.

"This policy is an old-fashioned approach to dictating employment conditions that doesn't reflect modern, flexible working practices.

"It will only make it harder for workers to keep their jobs."

In addition to the minimum wage increase, Labour committed to protecting vulnerable workers by:

• Legislating protections for dependent contractors.

• Recognising security guards as vulnerable workers to ensure their terms and conditions are protected.

• Raising the age for workers to be allowed to perform hazardous work to 16, and ensuring all workers have the right to elect health and safety representatives.

• Ensuring that Seafarer Welfare Centres provide better services.

Read more: PM’s pregnancy to ‘smash gender boundaries’

Trial periods
One major change the National Party announced is re-introducing 90-day trials for new employees. Labour wanted to get rid of 90-day trials altogether but, in a compromise with New Zealand First, the trials are now limited to employers with fewer than 20 employees.

This means employees in small and medium enterprises cannot take a personal grievance or other legal action against an employer for unfair dismissal within the first 90 calendar days of employment.

"The only sustainable way to create new jobs is to reduce barriers, costs and uncertainty for the private sector and in particular small business," Collins said.

"National will empower small businesses to grow, thrive and succeed.”

Cook told HRD that the Nationals would be likely to make further changes to collective bargaining.

“I’m sure National will make changes to collective bargaining because they made alterations when they were last in power which Labor reversed. So the Nationals will probably bring some of those back to make bargaining more in favour of the employer,” he said.

Additionally, National announced a policy known as Jobstart which gives employers a $10,000 grant for every new person it hires above its FTE workforce from November to March, up to a maximum of 10 employees - or nationally 50,000 new hires.

National would also begin a review of WorkSafe, the government's workplace regulator.

They will initiate the review, five years since its inception, to ensure it is focused on “delivering a high-performance culture”, with an emphasis on a “collaborative and reasonable” approach to health and safety improvement.

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