Employment Law, a run through of our history

Employment Law, a run through of our history

A bit of history.

Often, I come across someone who refers to the Employment Tribunal or Arbitration, and I think wow that’s going back a fair while in our history. So, I thought it would be a good blog to note the progression of Employment Law in New Zealand.

Here goes.

Historical Information

The original statue governing employment relations was called the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act (ICAA). It remained in force for a whopping 79 years between 1894 and 1973. Following the ICCA there was:

  • The Industrial Relations Act 1973, then
  • The Labour Relations Act 1987, which was swiftly followed by
  • The Employment Contracts Act 1991.

Nearly 10 years later the Employment Relations Act 2000 was enacted, which remains in force.  

What’s interesting is that under each Act was an establishment of a court or institution to settle disputes. Mediation, the Employment Relations Authority and the Employment Court were not always around. In 1894-1973 there was the Court of Arbitration. In 1973 there was the Industrial Court and the Industrial Commission which were replaced in 1977 by Arbitration Court. In 1987 through to 1991, there was the Labour Court and the Arbitration Commission. In 2000 the Employment Relations Act established Mediation, the Employment Relations Authority and the Employment Court, which to this date are still in place.

Resolving disputes today

As you’ll see below, an employment problem resolution process should be in your agreements.  It can be a tricky area to navigate and if possible parties to the problem should sit down with each other to resolve their concerns. Sometimes this can’t happen, for one reason or another, and there are avenues for support. Depending on what the issue is the company might have to investigate the concerns, consider setting expectations or pursue disciplinary action. If this doesn’t solve matters then mediation is often sought from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. This is free for parties (apart from their time away from work, and cost of support if they so choose) and is a confidential process where any agreement reached is full final and binding. 

Having a solid agreement will help in the worst case situations, it is always good to refer to your agreements as a guide – they are your legal terms and conditions that can be enforced as needed. 

Compliance – things to know today

Whilst all these Acts were legislated it is The Employment Relations Act that is current and applies today. It is every employer’s rule book that they should at least know the basics or have a specialist on tap to ensure they’re compliant.

First things first, there are different types of employment agreements from Individual Agreements to Collectives Agreements (CA) and in Collective Agreements, there are many types again from Multi-Unions (MUCA), Multi-Employers (MECA) and so forth. Individual agreements are between 1 employer and 1 employee whereas a collective agreement must include at least 2 employees in its simplest term.

In my experience, most private employers have individual agreements or should have, as they can be fined $1000 per employee for failing to have an agreement in writing.

What should be in an agreement – what’s compulsory?

  • The names of the employee and the employer – the parties to the agreement.
  • A description of the work to be performed.
  • An indication of the place of work.
  • Agreed hours or an indication of the hours that the employee will work this can include any or all of the following.
    • The number of hours
    • The start and finish times
    • Or the days of the week the employee will work.
  • The remuneration payable and how it will be paid.
  • A plain explanation of the employment problem resolution process including that personal grievances need to be raised within 90 days
  • A statement that the employee will get paid at least time and a half on their remuneration for working on a public holiday
  • For relevant employees, an employment protection provision that is to apply if the business is sold or transferred or if the employees work is contracted out
  • Any other matters agreed on such as trial periods, probationary arrangements, shift cancellations, availability provisions
  • The nature of the employment if the employment is fixed term.

There are other things to be mindful of, like if you are employing new staff and there is a collective agreement that applies the work of the employee then their terms and conditions must not be inconsistent with the collective agreement for the first 30 days. This is a rule that was removed when National last governed and reinstated when Labour won back the vote in 2017.

This is the absolute basic to be compliant, we recommend a much more detailed agreement to keep you safe. 

If you have any questions around the history of NZ employment legislation or more importantly what you need in your employment agreements give me a shout – happy to give you some guidance as always.