18 Jul 2010

PM sets out workplace law changes

5:07 pm on 18 July 2010

Prime Minister John Key has announced changes to existing workplace laws, including allowing workers to cash up their fourth week of leave and extending the 90-day worker trial to all businesses.

Mr Key told the National party's annual conference in Auckland on Sunday that, as with the existing employment scheme, the employer and potential employee will have to enter into a written agreement for a 90-day probation period.

"This is a policy of opportunity, it's about giving people the chance to find a job, and nothing is more important than that."

The 90-day scheme, at present open only to businesses with fewer than 20 staff, allows an employer to fire a new worker within the first three months of employment, without the right to take a personal grievance.

Mr Key says the measures are in line with international practice.

He told the conference the changes are aimed at increasing employment and making the economy grow faster.

In other changes, union access to workplaces will require employer consent, though access cannot be unreasonably withheld.

Option to cash up fourth week of leave

Employees will be able to cash up their fourth week of leave but should not come under any pressure from their employer to do so.

Workers and employers will also be able to agree to transfer their observance of a public holiday to another working day, for example to observe different religious holidays.

There will also be changes to the personal grievance process.

The Employment Relations Authority will be able to throw out any claims considered to be vexatious or frivolous.

Employers' processes will not be subject to what is described as pedantic scrutiny by the authority.

The authority will also be given the ability to cross examine witnesses.

On sick leave, there will be a change from the present system, in which an employer who believes an employee is taking a sick day when they're not ill must have proof before requesting a medical certificate.

Under the changes, an employer will be able to ask for a certificate without any proof, but will have to cover the cost.

Penalties for employers who breach the Holidays Act will double. It will go from $5000 to $10,000 if the employer is an individual; if the employer is a company the fine will go from $10,000 to $20,000.

Rowdy protests

As the announcement was being made, about 200 union members blocked the entrance to the Sky City conference venue in a loud protest against the planned changes.

Members of a number of unions chanted, sounded vuvuzelas and horns and beat drums.

A line of police officers was guarding the entrance to the convention centre, and extra officers were brought in to help.

The crowd spilled out onto Federal St disrupting traffic into and out of the hotel.

Earlier, the presidents of several unions addressed the crowd, citing instances where they said young people had been discriminated against by the use of the 90-day scheme.