Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.
If you missed out on the CCH HR and employment law summit, here’s a summary of the day and my key learning’s.
The day started with Joanne Hughes from MBIE talking through the proposed changes to the ERA. If you’re not up to speed with these, you can check them out here.
I then moderated a panel discussion on whether the ERA creates friction or flow and will the changes help or hinder this? Nikki Dines from Air NZ, André Lubbe from Auckland Council, Professor Jim Arrowsmith from Massey University, Jennifer Blight from Restaurant Brands and Jason Tuck from Ports of Auckland all had different views on this. The interesting points for me from this discussion included whether the changes to flexible working will see an influx of requests, whether the 60 day cooling off period will achieve anything if negotiations really have broken down and that being able to opt out of a MECA will be useful as it was strange to try and negotiate with competitors. All agreed the new 30 day rule will be useful. There was some debate about whether the ERA having to give an outcome in 3 months might cause pressure, but a lawyer in the audience raised that these weren’t murder or criminal convictions, and so 3 months was very reasonable. There was also some discussion about the changes both undermining unions and also not having teeth to deal with rogue union representatives. Lots to consider and plan for if the changes go through.
Liz Coats from BellGully talked through some recent redundancy decisions. We had a bit of a debate about whether with Totara Hills Farm, if the proposal had been that the farm could save between $5k – $10k rather than specifying $10K, would the ERA have said it was a fair decision? Of course, we don’t know the answer!
Emma Butcher from LangtonHudsonButcher raised some really interesting points about employment agreements including when an employee is an employee (or not). She discussed that once an employee has signed their IEA they are an employee, but if they’re not starting for 2 months the trial period doesn’t kick in until they start. So if you need to change their role before they start, you can’t use the trial period but would have to work through consultation. I also didn’t realise that if there is no written IEA, an employee can raise a PG outside of the 90 day period. Fascinating was the employee who made handwritten changes to her IEA, gave it back to her employer who didn’t check it, then 5 months later when she was made redundant, asked for the clauses she’d written in. The ERA upheld her claim.
Michael Hargreaves, Chief Legal Advisor for Worksafe then went through a Health & Safety legislation update. What was most fascinating from this was a comment from someone who had been running Directors training. They said that many Directors were considering stepping down once the new law came into force as they didn’t know anything about health and safety and didn’t feel comfortable with the liability level. I wonder whether this could this be the change that finally means more women who do have some experience in this area step forward and become Directors?
After lunch Rosemary Monaghan talked through the expectations of appearing before the Authority and there was more discussion about the 3 month timeframe.
Then Helen Kelly, President of the NZ Council of Trade Unions stepped up. She first of all talked about the union view that the proposed changes undermined the rights of employees and would drive down wages. She then shared a personal story about a forestry worker who had been killed, and talked through how the forestry, dairy and construction industries in NZ were letting employees work in dangerous conditions, for long hours and little pay. It was a sobering message.
Unfortunately many people in the room afterwards said it was too political for them. I wonder whether we’re too uncomfortable in NZ discussing issues that are political? Helen had actually won me round until I asked her a question. I’ve had some pretty bad experiences with unions, so I asked Helen how she would see unions working better with HR to achieve some of the changes she talked about, rather than fighting against employers. She told the whole room that every union in NZ had a very positive working relationships with employers.
Now I can guarantee that almost everyone in the room had current or past experience of unions not working positively with an employer and I was very disappointed that she brushed it off so quickly. It’s one thing to lobby government, another to recognise that to make changes to our workplaces and make them safer, unions could work better with HR and employers.
I have to apologise and admit that my emails were piling up so I had to step out for the last two sessions of the day which were Margaret Robins from Workplace Law giving an employment law update and Rita Worner and Marcus Beveridge from Queen City law talking about hiring migrants.
All in all, some interesting points raised about legislation changes but also for me it highlighted we’re still all working in silo’s. Unions, Directors, HR, ER, employment lawyers – if we actually collaborated together could we change the NZ workplace for the better? People are still dying every week. Jobs are still not even providing enough for people to feed their families. We should be leading the world on this.
And from being completely against Twitter, I also found that no-one was tweeting what was happening in the conference, so there was no shared learning going out of the room. Hopefully this blog sparks some discussion from those who were there or those who wanted to be!
If you want to purchase a copy of the papers from the conference, they are available on the CCH website.
For a conference of a completely different sort, check out the HR Game Changer Conference that we’re running in September.