New year, new government, new policies: what’s on the cards for employment law in 2024?

As we have been known to say once or twice (okay, maybe every year!) employment law never stands still. New governments can also spell major change, and this time is no exception. As you will likely have heard, two major changes to the employment law landscape were made in the lead up to Christmas last year. 

First, the Fair Pay Agreements Act 2022 has been repealed, which removes the ability for eligible groups to bargain for industry- or occupation-wide minimum employment terms. It is, of course, still possible for employees and unions to bargain with employers under the Employment Relations Act 2000. 

Second, all employers irrespective of their size are now able to include trial period provisions in employment agreements with new employees. We wrote in more detail about this change and what employers should be aware of when dealing with trial periods here.  

In the absence of a crystal ball, it is not possible to predict with complete certainty what changes in employment law we may see this year. However, the coalition agreements provide good guidance on what the new government has on its agenda. There are also several Member’s Bills which were introduced to the House of Representatives in 2023, and we contemplate whether those bills might become law this year.

National’s and Act’s Coalition Agreement

In addition to the changes already mentioned, National and Act have agreed to:

Reform health and safety laws

It is not yet clear what these reforms will look like, as there is no further detail in either party’s policy documents. It will certainly be interesting to see what happens in this space.

Consider simplifying personal grievances

Based on Act’s policy documents in the lead up to the election, it is likely that what is meant by simplifying personal grievances is twofold. First, Act campaigned that eligibility for remedies in the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court should be removed where the employee is at fault. Second, Act also campaigned for an income threshold to be set, above which a personal grievance cannot be pursued. These changes would significantly depart from the status quo if implemented by the new government.

Prohibit contractors from challenging their employment status in certain circumstances

The law currently allows workers, even those who have signed up for a contracting arrangement, to challenge their employment status in the Employment Relations Authority and Employment Court. In other words, the law is not concerned with how parties have described their employment relationship, but rather what the “real nature” of the employment relationship is.

This can be a contentious issue because it has important implications for the worker involved; in essence, employment status is the gateway to the statutory protections and entitlements only afforded to employees.

There have been a series of high-profile cases on this point, including cases involving Gloriavale residents (both in 2022 and 2023), builders, courier and Uber drivers. You can read more about those cases by following the respective hyperlinks. You can also read a more detailed overview of the topic here.

During the election, Act campaigned on reform in this space, saying that parties to a working relationship should be able to define their working relationship (and not have it later be challenged) as a contracting arrangement, where certain criteria were satisfied.  

Like with simplifying personal grievances, this change would be a significant departure from the status quo if implemented.

National’s and New Zealand First’s Coalition Agreement

National and New Zealand First have also agreed to a number of employment related policies, including:

  • Strengthening obligations on Jobseeker work ready beneficiaries, and considering time limits for those under the age of 25;
  • Improving the Accredited Employer Work Visa;
  • Committing to moderate increases to the minimum wage every year;
  • Ensuring that Immigration New Zealand is engaged in proper risk management and verification in respect of migrant workers;
  • Committing to enforcement and action to ensure those found responsible for the abuse of migrant workers face appropriate consequences; and
  • Investigating the establishment of an “Essential Worker” workforce planning mechanism. 

Member’s Bills

There are several Member’s Bills dealing with various aspects of employment law that are somewhere in the parliamentary process. These include:




Likelihood of becoming law?

Crimes (Theft by Employer) Amendment Bill

Select Committee stage

Clarifies that not paying an employee their wages is theft, and introduces an offence for employers who intentionally withhold wages.

Unlikely, as neither National nor Act supported the Bill at its first reading.

Employment Relations (Protection for KiwiSaver Members) Amendment Bill

Select Committee stage

Provides better protection against discrimination of workers enrolled in KiwiSaver.  

Possible, as National supported the Bill at its first reading. Act did not support the Bill.

Employment Relations (Restraint of Trade) Amendment Bill

Select Committee stage

Introduces certain criteria that must be met for restraints of trade provisions to be lawful. 

Unlikely, as neither National nor Act supported the Bill at its first reading.

Human Rights (Prohibition of Discrimination on Grounds of Gender Identity or Expression, and Variations of Sex Characteristics) Amendment Bill


Adds two new grounds, gender identity or expression, and variations of sex characteristics, to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Unclear, as the Bill is yet to have its First Reading.

It is not guaranteed that any of these Member’s Bills will become law, and indeed, many of them are unlikely to proceed (at least in their current form), given they do not have the support of the new government (noting that New Zealand First’s position on each bill is unclear, as the party did not have any seats in the House during the last parliamentary term).

If you have any questions about these possible changes and what they might mean for you, or how your business can stay up to date through 2024, please get in touch with our Employment Law Team or your usual contact at Hesketh Henry.

Disclaimer:  The information contained in this article is current at the date of publishing and is of a general nature.  It should be used as a guide only and not as a substitute for obtaining legal advice.  Specific legal advice should be sought where required.







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