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Employment law changes under a Labour Government

An item on the radio a couple of weeks ago caught my attention — the Hon Michael Wood, the new Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety, stated that one of the first things on the Government’s agenda once Parliament officially opened was to introduce legislation to increase sick leave from five days to 10 days per annum.

While this was one of Labour’s better known election-campaign employment policies, I wondered how many employers are aware of Labour’s other employment policies also likely to be introduced during the current term of Government. These include:

Increase to minimum wage:

A likely increase in the minimum wage from $18.90 to $20.00 effective April 1, 2021.

Fair Pay Agreements:

FPAs will see a new system for collective bargaining to set minimum wages and terms, in excess of existing legal minimums, across an entire occupation or sector. Once agreed, an FPA would cover all employers in that sector, with the possibility of regional variations.

Simplification of the Holidays Act:

While the interim report from the Holidays Act Taskforce remains unpublished, we are hopeful that the Labour Government will push ahead with significant reforms to simplify the Holidays Act and reduce the number of employer leave calculations.

An additional public holiday:

Labour has promised to introduce a 12th public holiday — Matariki, in 2022. While the specific date has yet to be determined, it is expected that it will always fall on a Monday or Friday within Matariki.

Dependent contractors:

A “dependent contractor” is a worker who may operate their own business and may use their own equipment, but depend on one firm for most of their income and have little control over their daily work. Labour has proposed that it will extend basic employment rights to dependent contractors, including the right to collectively bargain and some statutory minimum entitlements, such as sick leave.

Did you know we have a new Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act 2020:

The new Privacy Act came into force on December 1, replacing the 27-year-old Privacy Act 1993. Intended to provide greater protection of personal information in the digital age, the new Act uses the same principle-based approach as the previous Act, but includes new obligations for “agencies” (the name used for any organisation, business or person that handles personal information) and enhances the role of the Privacy Commissioner.

Some of the key changes to the Act include:

• Requirements to report privacy breaches — If an agency has a privacy breach that causes serious harm, or is likely to do so, it must notify the people affected and the commissioner. A breach could include any unauthorised or accidental access to, or loss, or destruction of personal information.

• Compliance notices — The commissioner will be able to issue compliance notices requiring an agency to remedy any breach.

• New criminal offences — It will be an offence to mislead an agency to obtain access to personal information, or to destroy personal information knowing that a request has been made for it. The penalty will be a fine of up to $10,000.

• Strengthening cross-border protections — Agencies will have to take reasonable steps to ensure that personal information sent overseas (eg an offshore payroll company or cloud service provider) is protected by comparable privacy standards to our own. The Act also clarifies that when an agency engages an overseas service provider, it will have to comply with NZ’s privacy laws.

• Strengthening the Privacy Commissioner’s information gathering power — The commissioner can shorten the timeframe in which an agency must comply with investigations and the penalty for non-compliance will be increased from $2000 to $10,000.

If you haven’t already taken steps to prepare for the new Act, you may need to:

• Review your third-party contracts where any other party stores or processes your organisation’s personal information

• Update your organisation’s privacy policy to align to the new Act

• Decide who in your business will take a lead on privacy matters and become your privacy officer.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is of a general nature and is not intended as legal advice.

Craig Sidoruk