At the end of January the Employment Relations Amendment Bill (ERA Bill) was introduced into Parliament by Minister Lees-Galloway as part of the new Labour Government’s 100 day plan. The Minister outlined the purpose of the Bill - to restore key minimum standards and protections for employees, and to implement a suite of changes to promote and strengthen collective bargaining and union rights in the workplace.
While NZALPA generally supports the reversal of a number of the employment law roll backs made by the National government in the past nine years, there are several parts of the proposed legislation that need further consideration.
The key amendments of relevance to the aviation industry and NZALPA are the proposed changes to meal and rest breaks; strengthening of collective bargaining positions; and the partial removal of 90 day trial periods.
Meal and rest breaks
The ERA Bill includes a mandatory requirement for employers to give staff prescribed rest and meal breaks. These breaks are essential to allow employees to have enough time to rest and refresh during their shift. This is particularly important for the aviation industry and the wider travelling public so pilots and staff are adequately refreshed and fuelled, helping minimise the risk of errors occurring.
NZALPA is disappointed that the government has not extended this right to Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) during their shifts. The ERA Bill excludes the requirement of mandatory breaks for businesses defined as providing an essential service, where the continuity of the service is critical to the public interest, and the cost of replacing the employee with a person sufficient to cover the break is deemed unreasonable.
As expected, our ATC members are placed into this category. NZALPA considers this an inadequate result for its members as there has been no previous correspondence with us to better understand what this will mean for ATCs.
During long shifts without breaks the likelihood of errors increases significantly as ATCs start to tire and may be unable to have the sharp concentration needed for the job. Unlike many other professions, an error in aviation can cause fatalities. This must be further considered as the proposed legislation continues through the select committee process.
Changes to collective bargaining
After years of union rights being rolled back, NZALPA encourages the proposed changes to collective bargaining. Proposed changes include:
- reinstate union representatives' rights to access the workplace to conduct union activities, where employees are members, without prior consent of the employer;
- require employers to provide union contact details, information about the role of unions and the option to join a union to new employees;
- reinstate the 30-day rule where for the first 30 days' new employees must be employed under terms consistent with the collective agreement;
- reinstate a union's opportunity to initiate collective bargaining first;
- reinstate the principle that the duty of good faith requires parties to conclude a collective agreement;
- remove the ability for employers to opt out of multi-employer collective contracts once bargaining has been initiated;
- require that collective agreements must set pay rates and that rates of pay be agreed during collective bargaining;
- extend the grounds for discrimination against union members;
- require employers to allow union representatives reasonable time to perform their duties within working hours; and
- remove an employer's ability to deduct pay as a response to partial strikes.
“These changes recognise the importance of unions within industries,” said Dawn Handforth, NZALPA General Manager. “If the proposed changes go ahead they will provide us with a firm foundation in our ongoing and upcoming negotiations.”
90-day trial employment period
The ERA Bill will restrict the use of a 90-day trial employment to businesses that employ 19 or less people. While it is a positive step forward to see a restriction on the scope of these provisions, for a number of our members this restriction does not go far enough.
For people operating within smaller aviation organisations, such as sky diving pilots, the threat of losing their role with no legitimate reason, including when the peak season ends, will be imminent.
We will continue to advocate for this provision to be removed in its entirety or, at the very least, used fairly and not abused by employers.
Both Prime Minister Arden and Minister Lees-Galloway have signalled the need for a collaborative approach working with both unions and business to better develop this legislation.
NZALPA is currently preparing a submission outlining its concerns that will be presented to the select committee for review by its closing date of 30 March 2018. NZALPA has also expressed its willingness to engage collaboratively on the proposed amendments with the relevant Ministers.