Top tier ready to lobby government about employment issues

by Sophie Schroder06 Oct 2014
Law firm Simpson Grierson has conducted a series of surveys of its employer clients and come up with some very telling results.

The results have been used to create a “post-election employment law wish list” the firm plans to take to the government.

The research was conducted after clients indicated they were facing difficulties in the employment space, and in response the survey asked them to select the top three issues they would like the government to focus on post-election.

A landslide 77% of the 116 respondents said the government needs to change and simplify the Holidays Act 2003.

These results reinforced another survey that Simpson Grierson conducted earlier this year - specifically about the Holidays Act - which indicated that respondents wanted a modern, user-friendly piece of legislation that is easy to understand and apply.

And as a consequence of that, the firm held a working group session with the then Minister of Labour Simon Bridges in April.

At the time, the ministerial advisory group recommended greater flexibility by allowing the accrual and payment of all leave entitlement in a unit that best suits the workplace.

Senior associate Rebecca Rendle has been spearheading the research alongside partner Phillipa Muir.

“I think even we were surprised to see what a strong priority the Holidays Act was,” Rendle told NZ Lawyer. “It really does signal that it’s an area that needs attention – it’s not about changing anyone’s entitlements, it’s just about making it simpler for both employers and employees.”

And although there have been amendments to the Act in the past, the results of the survey signal that its time to repeal it and have some more user-friendly legislation that better accommodates the varied workplaces and work patterns that we have today, she says.

“There are two key things we’d like to achieve out of this: One formula for calculating leave, and then changing the way it’s accrued so that it can be weeks, days or hours, depending on what best suits the particular workplace,” says Rendle.

As well as simplification of the Holidays Act; timeframes for raising and pursuing a personal grievance and fixed term agreements also emerged as other important priorities for Simpson Grierson clients.

Under the current law, an employee has 90 days to raise a personal grievance and then three years to pursue this in the Employment Relations Authority.

But there is real benefit to both parties in having personal grievance claims resolved at an early stage, says Rendle.

“The desire to have litigation pursued and resolved in an efficient manner – that’s what people want.  An employer can be put at a real disadvantage if a grievance that has been dormant for three years resurfaces as key witnesses may have moved on.”

And making it simpler for employers and employees to enter into valid fixed term employment agreements was the third most important employment issued according to the survey, with 38% of respondents saying it was a priority.

Once the government has appointed a new Minister of Labour, Simpson Grierson will take the results of the research to them so there can be further discussion and consideration of what change is desirable and achievable.

“I feel that if we think there’s an important issue, then it’s something that we pursue. We hear about it being difficult and causing issues for our clients, so that’s why we want to do something about it,” Rendle says.

“We hope we can have a wider discussion and debate around this. The last thing we want is new legislation brought in with a different set of problems, so it needs to be consulted on.”