Law change to protect workers’ Christmas leave

The Government is going to change the Holidays Act to make sure workers don’t lose four days’ leave when firms shut their doors over Christmas and New Year.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said yesterday the Employment Court recently ruled that when a firm routinely closed over the Christmas and New Year period, employees were not legally entitled to the public holidays that fell within that time and would have to use annual leave to cover those days instead.

“The Christmas and New Year holidays are an established feature of the New Zealand summer,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“Where firms do decide to close their doors, it’s important that staff aren’t unfairly disadvantaged by losing four public holidays.

“The law will be amended to ensure working Kiwis remain entitled to those days off, as they have been in the past.”To achieve the law change, Ms Wilkinson made a late amendment to one of two bills she introduced to Parliament yesterday to extend the 90-day probation period to all businesses and allow workers to exchange the fourth week of their leave for cash if they want to.

CCID: 39082 | adwidth=300Both changes, announced last month, are under fire from unions and the Labour party.

Fierce debates are expected in Parliament when the two bills come up for their first readings. The 90-day probation period for new employees currently covers businesses with 19 or fewer employees.

Unions say that when it is extended to all businesses, 400,000 workers will be affected – the number starting new jobs or changing jobs each year.

Employees can be sacked during the probation period without the right to claim unfair dismissal.

The Government says the move creates opportunities for people who wouldn’t otherwise be taken on, while unions say it is a “fire at will” law that leads to exploitation.