Employment Relations Amendment Bill Update

News of the latest delay in this mainstay of Labour’s election promises has of course already broken, but it is interesting to recall the story so far.
Introduced to Parliament on 29 January 2018, the Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2018 had its first reading on 1 February, when it was sent to the Select Committee with a report expected by 1 August. In the event, the report was published on 7 September. It took until 27 November for its second reading in Parliament, and the revised expected date for the Bill to come into force is now 6 May 2019.
What’s up now? Workplace Relations and Safety Minister, Iain Lees-Galloway has introduced a Supplementary Order Paper suggesting further amendments to the Bill. The changes are set out below.
One of the main concerns that employers have is being made an instrument in the drive for union membership. Forced inclusion in MECAs and unions’ unfettered access to workplaces are key elements of this.
The SOP proposes to:
• restrict a union official’s ability to access employers’ workplaces without consent to circumstances in which there is a relevant, in-force, collective agreement or where bargaining for a relevant collective agreement has been initiated;
• include a new purpose for which a union representative can enter a workplace – namely, where a non-union employee asks the union for assistance in relation to a health and safety matter;
• limit penalties for refusing access to a union representative to instances where the union representative is entitled to enter the workplace; and
• remove the current MECA opt-out wording, but state explicitly that objection to concluding a MECA is a genuine reason not to conclude a collective agreement if the objection is based on reasonable grounds.
• delay the progress of the Bill further. Instead of coming into force 4 months after Royal Assent (which was expected to be around March 2019), the Bill is now proposed to come into force on 6 May 2019.

No further change is proposed to the 90-day trial provision, which is limited to employers with fewer than 20 employees.

Jingle Bell season
The year-end always brings a spirit of bonhomie # and to some that’s a temptation to let it all hang out. Here’s a reminder of what is risky, on-site and off.

(# Start the celebrations by looking it up – https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/bonhomie)

In addition to your official Christmas party, some of your staff will be celebrating with customers and suppliers. Many have unofficial team celebrations. So the risk of inappropriate conduct for which you could be held accountable might be bigger than you thought.

Getting to and from the Company Christmas party
You must ensure, as far as is reasonably practical (you will recognise which Act this comes from), the health and safety of your team at any function that you arrange and pay for. This includes making sure that your team is safe while getting to and from the event.

The biggest risk is drink driving. Make sure that you have set and communicated your clear expectations to everyone, stressing the need for safe travel. Depending how let-it-all-hang-out the mood is, it might be wise to have someone monitor staff as they leave, and having taxi chits on hand for early celebrators and those with a glint in the eye.

Proper behaviour at the Company Christmas party
It’s your responsibility to ensure that your team is not harassed, bullied or discriminated against, and doesn’t do it to others.

A practical option is to designate some of your team to take on a hosting role and keep an eye on matters. Those persons should be instructed on what to do if they see or hear something untoward. Ideally they should prepare a plan for supervising the festivities and run it by management.

And at unofficial celebrations and after the Christmas party?
Unofficial celebrations usually start early – about now – team drinks after work and Secret Santas are common. And then there’s the after-party.

The main point is that your managers should be aware what is a work function and what isn’t. If an employee in a leadership position organises or promotes an event paid for by or advertised under the company name, the company should consider the health and safety responsibilities that follow.

What about parties with customers or suppliers?
Your employees represent your company at such functions, so they must adhere to your Code of Conduct and health and safety rules. The risk is easily managed by refreshing your team on these few points.

And the indispensable, evil Social Media?
Numerous employment law cases have confirmed that you are responsible if your behaviour on social media affects your employer’s reputation.

Bullying and harassment claims are much more common than before, and a focus for WorkSafe and the Government.

The risk can be minimised by firstly ensuring that your team knows what each of these terms mean, and secondly by acting immediately on a claim or complaint. It’s a delicate process to handle both parties simultaneously, and not the subject for this article.

An excellent start is to remind everyone on your policy for posting party pics online.

And that was 2018. Jingle bells!

This article is brought to you by WGANZ’s free employment helpline 0800 692 384. If you have any questions or would like to discuss the article above, please call Philip or Anthony on the helpline.