Government's employment changes 'pragmatic' say farmers, businesses

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Parliament.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Parliament. Photo credit: Getty

The Government's employment law changes have been labelled "reasonably pragmatic" and "good for small businesses" by two of New Zealand's prominent lobby groups.

The changes will see 90-day trial periods scrapped for all large businesses, with businesses with fewer than 20 employees allowed to keep using them.

There will be a number of other changes, including the restoration of statutory meal and rest breaks and protections for union members.

Ninety-day trials were introduced by the National Government for small businesses in 2009 and extended to all employers in 2010. They allow employers to 'trial' new employees for up to 90 days.

Federated Farmers says the legislation will "give farmers renewed confidence."

"The decision is especially good for small businesses. The vast majority of farming businesses are in this category and they will appreciate the rationale," Chris Lewis, Federated Farmers Employment Spokesperson said.

"Many employ few staff but because of the small size of the business, they simply can't afford the situation or inconvenience when new staff aren't suited for the job or can't fit in."

The group singled out Winston Peters for acknowledgement - New Zealand First negotiated with Labour to have the trials retained for small businesses.

Business lobby group BusinessNZ also sees the changes as "reasonably pragmatic" for small businesses. 

BusinessNZ Chief Executive Kirk Hope said most of the changes affect larger businesses, which "would be equipped to cope with the changes that reverse some bargaining and collective agreement rules introduced by the previous Government."

Mr Hope said the decision to retain the trial period for small businesses "shows the Government has an understanding of the needs and pressures facing small businesses and has been willing to alter policy to reflect those needs."

Most criticism of the new legislation has come from the Opposition benches in Parliament.

National says the changes will "slow down New Zealand's high performing job market". 

"New Zealanders will rightly suspect they are a random union wish list. People will be asking exactly how much influence these unions have in the current Government," National Party Workplace Relations Spokesperson Amy Adams says.

"These reforms will further damage business confidence and take New Zealand backwards. They will only disrupt New Zealand's settled and successful employment law," she said.

Meanwhile, ACT's leader David Seymour says limiting the use of 90-day trials will hit the construction industry - the very industry that the Government will need to keep humming for Kiwibuild.

"Only half of construction workers work in firms with fewer than 20 employees. This means much of the construction industry will not have access to a tool that has helped them expand in a country desperate for new houses," Mr Seymour said.

A Treasury-funded study published in 2016 found no evidence the trial periods had any impact on the number of people hired, including the hiring of disadvantaged jobseekers. 


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