Right to smoko removed

10:05, Oct 30 2014

A law change bringing in far-reaching workplace reforms, including the removal of the statutory right to meal breaks and smokos, has passed its final hurdle in Parliament today.

The Employment Relations Amendment Bill, which passed its third reading this afternoon, was the first law change completed by Prime Minister John Key's third-term government.

It was first introduced before the election, but after John Banks quit the Government was thwarted by a lack of support for the measures from minor parties.

It was opposed by Labour, the Greens, the Maori Party and New Zealand First.

Labour today tabled a petition opposing the law that drew more than 51,000 signatures in a week.

But Key said the law was clearly signalled as National policy before the election and no-one should be surprised by it.

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"This is a very moderate piece of employment legislation."

Speaking against the Bill, Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway said it was designed to keep wages down, and would enshrine the advantages of those who had benefited from the growing economy while undermining workers' rights.

But National's Jonathan Young said it would give employees and employers the chance to work through the best arrangements that suited them.

Among its key changes, the law will allow employers to walk away from negotiating a collective agreement, though they will first have to act in good faith. 

That requirement would not be met if they simply refused to agree because they were opposed in principle.

Under changes to the right to meal and tea breaks, an employer would only have to provide ‘‘reasonable compensatory measures where an employee could not reasonably be provided with breaks’’. That could be met by giving equivalent time off work.

National MPs have argued the law would not override rules governing hours of work in jobs such as passenger transport. Nor would it negate the general duty on employers under health and safety laws.

Among its other provisions, the Bill will:

* extend the right to request flexible working arrangements to all workers, not just those who have to care for someone.

* remove the 30 day rule that forces employers to offer the terms and conditions of an existing collective agreement to a new employee who is not in a union.

* allow employers to opt out of multi-employer collective bargaining.

* change the rule protecting the jobs of  ‘‘vulnerable workers’’ in industries such as catering, cleaning and laundry services where their employer loses a contract to a rival bidder. Under the new clause, employers with fewer than 20 workers will be exempt.

* allow employers to dock the pay, at a default rate of 10 per cent, of any worker undertaking a ‘‘partial strike’’. These could include working to rule, go slows or breaking some aspect of the employment agreement, such as refusing to wear a uniform.

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