Union alarm at talk of longer work trial

LAURA WALTERS
Last updated 05:00 06/06/2013
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Should the 90-day trial period for employees be doubled?

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Trade unionists have labelled a suggestion by the Employers and Manufacturers' Association to double the current 90-day trial period for employees as "disgraceful".

An EMA study of all personal grievances last year showed only 15 per cent of employers successfully defended performance-related grievances in front of the Employment Relations Authority.

EMA manager of employment services David Lowe said it was hard to manage employees with fluctuating performance, and extending the 90-day trial to 180 days would allow employers to identify potential issues with workers.

However, Council of Trade Unions general counsel Jeff Sissons said extending the period was an inappropriate remedy.

"During the trial period employers can sack workers for any reason," he said.

If the trial period was extended, employers could hire young staff on the $11-an-hour starting-out wage and fire them before the end of the trial period, Sissons said.

The EMA analysis showed 34 claims were made in 2012 by employees whose employment finished within the first 90 days, and 91 per cent of them won.

Performance issues should be resolved by employers communicating their expectations clearly, and providing training and support, Sissons said.

The EMA results found 67 per cent of the 366 personal grievance cases before the ERA went in favour of the employee.

Lowe said the results seemed skewed in favour of employees because workers were unlikely to proceed unless they felt severely wronged and thought they had a good chance of winning.

Sissons said the low number of ERA cases compared with the 2.2 million employed New Zealanders implied a lack of access to justice.

High legal fees deterred employees from taking grievances to the authority unless they thought they would win, he said.

It cost employers an average of $34,913 when they lost a personal grievance and employees $13,657, the study showed.

The average legal bill for an employer to win a personal grievance case was $12,445, down $3605 on last year.

While average legal bills for employers had decreased, the average cost for an employer to win a personal grievance case nearly halved from $11,355 to $6631.

Average legal bills for employees also fell, by $1357 to $7843.

Employees were awarded an average of $5610 in compensation, up $634, or 13 per cent, on 2011.

CASE BY CASE

Claims in favour of employers:

Redundancy grievances: 29 per cent (23 out of 80)

Misconduct: 26 per cent (48/122)

Performance: 15 per cent (6/41)

Constructive dismissal: 46 per cent (26/56)

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Disadvantage: 27 per cent (18/66)

Claims for reinstatement: 50 per cent (5/10)

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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