Some significant changes to the Employment Relations Act start on 6 May 2019, with a few more changes starting on 12 June 2019.

These changes are made by the Employment Relations Amendment Act 2018 and will strengthen protections for employees and unions.

Some protections are reinstated on 6 May 2019

Many of the changes made by the Amendment Act restore protections for employees and unions that existed before 2015. These include:

  • Trial periods will again be limited to employers with fewer than 20 employees.
  • The right to specified rest breaks and meals breaks will be reinstated (with a new exemption for employees in essential services or national security services).
  • Employers with fewer than 20 employees will no longer be exempt from the restructuring protections for vulnerable employees.
  • For employers with a union presence:
    • employers and unions will again have an obligation to conclude a collective agreement (unless there is a genuine reason not to)
    • the 30-day rule is reinstated, so that new non-union employees must be employed on the same (or better) terms and conditions as the collective agreement.

New obligations for employers from 6 May 2019

Employers that have a union presence also have some new obligations from 6 May 2019. These include:

  • requiring collective agreements to include wage rates or salary payable (including how these may increase over the term of the agreement)
  • allowing union delegates reasonable paid time to carry out union activities (unless the activities would unreasonably disrupt the employer’s business or the employee’s employment duties)
  • giving union information to prospective employees if requested by a union (unless they tell the union within 15 working days that they refuse for a permitted reason)
  • giving new non-union employees an approved ‘active choice form’ to complete to state whether they intend to join the union or object to the employer giving information about them to the union.

More new obligations from 12 June 2019

From 12 June 2019, employers can’t discriminate against an employee because the employee was a union member or intended to join a union in the past 18 months. Discrimination by employers because of an employee’s involvement in union activities in the past 12 months was already banned. However, this period will be extended to 18 months.

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