INBOX : New workplace laws

Managers need to be aware of two changes to employment law that may affect their workplaces.
The Employment Relations (Rest Breaks and Meal Breaks) Amendment Bill relaxes the provisions on rest and meal breaks for employees, while the Employment Relations (Workers’ Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill requires unions to hold secret ballot of their members before taking strike action, says Simpson Grierson’s employment division.
In October last year the Employment Relations (Rest Breaks and Meal Breaks) Amendment Bill was introduced to Parliament.
The Bill proposes significant changes to the existing rest and meal breaks régime, says Simpson Grierson. It removes the legislated minimums for rest and meal breaks and replaces them with requirement for employers to either provide meal breaks and paid rest breaks, or take compensatory measures.
These changes aim to ease the current requirements on the timing, number and duration of breaks, to make the criteria for break more flexible.
Key features of the Bill include:
• Employees are still entitled to rest and meal breaks;
• The entitlement can be subject to certain restrictions, but only if the restrictions are reasonable and necessary given the nature of the employee’s work;
• There are no default timings for rest and meal breaks – these must be agreed between the employee and employer;
• Where there is no agreement, the employer can specify the times and durations of the breaks, but these must be reasonable;
• An employer is not required to provide rest and meal breaks where the employer and employee agree that the employee will be provided with compensatory measures (defined in the Bill as including measures such as later start time, earlier finish time, or time off in lieu).
The Select Committee has recommended the Bill be passed into law, with the Committee’s main amendments being that the entitlement to rest and meal breaks can be subject to certain restrictions if they are reasonable and necessary, given the nature of the employee’s work or if they are reasonable and agreed to by the employer and employee; and where compensatory measures are provided instead of rest or meal breaks, they must be “reasonable”. The Bill will now be referred back to the House for its second reading.
The Select Committee also recommended passing the Employment Relations (Workers’ Secret Ballot for Strikes) Amendment Bill, which would require unions to hold secret ballot before taking strike action. Secret ballots should be means for individual union members to have their say on whether they want to go ahead with proposed strike action.
The Select Committee has amended the Bill to clarify that the question to be voted on in secret ballot is whether the members of the union are in favour of the strike; and unions will have an obligation to inform their members of the outcome of the secret ballot as soon as reasonably practicable after the vote has taken place.

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