Employment Law Editorials

First the Herald:

Most of the scrutiny of the Government’s planned changes to has focused on the extension to all firms of the 90-day trial period for new workers. But for business, the most welcome aspect of the package will undoubtedly be the sensible reform of personal grievance dispute procedures. Too often, employers have looked askance at the way Employment Relations Authority processes and decisions have come to the aid of workers who have been dismissed for perfectly valid reasons. A rebalancing is long overdue.

The Government has made two particularly notable changes. First, the authority will be able to filter out vexatious or frivolous claims early on, thereby saving time and money. Secondly, and most importantly, the authority will have to pay more attention to the right outcome, rather than subject employer processes to “pedantic scrutiny”. This is intended to stop decisions going against employers because they failed to follow procedure to the exact letter in terms of warnings, areas for employee improvement and suchlike. No longer should loopholes undermine a justified dismissal, sometimes at a cost of thousands of dollars to an employer. …

At times businesses can find it nigh on impossible to dismiss even the most flagrant abuser of workplace standards or productivity requirements. The reform should not be interpreted, however, as the green light for loose or unfair practice. Although the detail of the change has yet to be announced, it will still fall to the authority to decide what is a minor oversight with no bearing on the core issue and what is a dire breach of procedure. This should swing the personal grievance process back into better balance rather than substantially in employers’ favour.

What is interesting is the Government is planning to put into statute, much of the case law on how to legally dismiss someone. This will reduce uncertainty – along with a proposed code of practice.

The most obviously problematic item on the Government agenda is, however, the plan to allow employers to force workers taking sick days to prove they are ill, after just one day. This is intended to allow firms to tackle employees who they suspect are routinely taking ‘sickies’. The Labour Minister says it would be used sparingly. So it will if this is a rare problem. But if used widely, it would create a significant burden for all concerned. If, as the minister suggests, this is not a major problem, there seems no good reason to amend the present law, which serves its purpose well enough.

I agree that at this stage I am not convinced this is a change where the pros outweigh the cons.

In sum, this is not the stuff of a strident assault on workers’ rights. It is more a measured process that, with a little select committee tweaking, will introduce a greater coherence and flexibility into employment law, especially that relating to personal grievances.

They really are quite modest changes – but changes that will be of considerable benefit.

The Dom Post:

In an ideal world there would be little need for employment law. Employers, unions and workers would be fair and reasonable at all times. No-one would take advantage of sick leave provisions to add to their leave entitlement. No-one would be capriciously sacked.

However, this is not an ideal world. Employers and workers do not always act as they should, and that is why a legal framework is needed to govern their relationships.

The Government’s role should be to make sure the balance of that framework is as fair as possible. The changes Prime Minister John Key announced at the weekend are a move towards that. …

It is undeniable that, under Labour, the pendulum swung towards the workers. The just-announced changes are an overdue and small correction – not the catastrophe their opponents believe.

This talk about a council of war is hysterical over-reaction.

Finally the ODT:

Planned changes to employment and holiday laws announced by Prime Minister John Key on Sunday are hardly the stuff of revolution. …

They represent the attitudes of a Government shading towards the right while still keeping within range of the centre.

They reflect policies of a National Party determined to be pragmatic rather then radical.

Nonetheless, the measures, if enacted after passing through parliamentary processes, will, in total, help employers as they try to do business.

They will, in small ways, help New Zealand’s competitiveness.

And that is the key. The changes will make NZ more competitive and will enhance economic growth.

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