Equal Pay and Pay Equity
The Equal Pay Amendment Bill has not yet been passed into legislation, but it is currently in front of Parliament and may be subject to amendments. In its current form, it provides a detailed process for employees or groups of employees to make claims if they believe they are being underpaid due to their roles being undervalued. It provides for a bargaining process to settle claims, and provides for litigation if claims are not settled. It also gives the Courts the power to award ‘back pay’ on claims, to a maximum limitation period of six years. This comes following an important 2014 Court of Appeal decision – Appeal: Terranova Homes & Care Ltd v Service and Food Workers Union Nga Ringa Tota Inc  NZCA 516,  2 NZLR 437. This case resulted in 55,000 female workers in the residential and care home sector receiving a settlement totalling in excess of NZD 2 billion after their claim that they were paid less than if their work had been considered “male work”, (essentially a claim that their work was undervalued) was accepted by the Court of Appeal.
A Privacy Bill is currently in front of Parliament.
There are four key changes in the Bill. Overall, these changes strengthen the standard of protection for personal information and increase the enforcement powers of the Privacy Commissioner.
Firstly, the Bill contains a breach reporting requirement. If a person’s privacy rights are breached and there is a possibility of serious harm or serious harm results from this breach, the agency holding the information will be required to notify both the Privacy Commissioner and the individual or individuals whose privacy has been breached as soon as practicable. There will be a fine of up to NZD 10,000 associated with failure to report under this requirement.
Secondly, the Privacy Commissioner’s power to enforce privacy standards will be enhanced. The Commissioner will have two important new abilities; the ability to issue compliance notices requiring agencies to take specific steps to comply with privacy law, as well as the ability to issue binding decisions on requests for access to personal information.
Thirdly, the Bill places obligations on agencies to ensure the protection of information sent overseas. Personal information will only be allowed to be sent overseas if the jurisdiction to which the information is being sent has comparable privacy laws to New Zealand, or if the person authorises the disclosure of their personal information overseas.
Finally, the Bill makes it an offence for a person to falsely represent that he or she has authority under the Privacy Act. It will also be an offence to knowingly destroy documents that are subject to a personal information request. A maximum fine of NZD 10,000 has been proposed for these offences.
The key impacts of the Bill are the introduction of mandatory breach reporting (for ‘notifiable’ breaches), increasing the enforcement powers of the Privacy Commissioner and affording greater protection to information sent overseas.
Fair pay agreements
New Zealand has recently had a change in government, and the emerging trends in employment law reflect this. The country is experiencing a move towards greater union involvement, and potential judicial involvement. There is currently discussion underway (conducted by a ‘working group’ regarding the implementation of ‘fair pay agreements’ whereby the Courts would set pay rates across various industries. No details have yet been released on how this would be done since the working group is yet to report back. It is likely to involve pay rates being set by the judicial employment institutions.