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Fair Pay Agreements Bill on the table

The long-awaited Fair Pay Agreements Bill was recently introduced in Parliament proposing a framework for collective bargaining of fair pay agreements (FPA).

What is an FPA? An FPA is an agreement that establishes mandatory minimum employment terms (such as wages or hours of work) across an entire industry or occupation that exceed the minimum entitlements outlined in employment law. Currently, an employer and employee are free to negotiate the terms of employment without being subject to fair pay obligations, provided the minimum entitlements in employment law are met.

What is the FPA process? A union initiates the bargaining process by applying to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). If MBIE approves the application, the union begins bargaining with an employer association (that represents employers in the relevant industry).

What does this mean for employers? If the negotiation is successful, all the employers in an industry covered by an FPA would have to provide their employees with at least the minimum entitlements required by the FPA, regardless of whether the employer engaged in the bargaining process.

The Bill also proposes granting employees and unions other rights such as the right for a union to enter a workplace without an employer’s consent to meet with employees to discuss FPAs. This may be confronting to some employers, particularly smaller businesses that may be new to collective bargaining.

Next steps: Public submissions on the Bill closed on 19 May 2022, so we now await the Select Committee’s report. The Bill is expected to become law by the end of 2022.

Proposed legislation to address modern slavery and worker exploitation

The government has released a consultation paper proposing new legislation to reduce modern slavery and worker exploitation in New Zealand and internationally. As currently proposed, the legislation may have a material impact on the way businesses operate in this country.

The paper defines ‘modern slavery’ as severe exploitation that a person cannot leave due to threats, violence or deception, including forced labour, debt bondage, forced marriage, slavery and human trafficking. ‘Worker exploitation’ is behaviour that causes material harm to the economic, social, physical or emotional well-being of a person, which essentially includes non-minor breaches of New Zealand employment standards (such as providing no less than minimum wage or annual holiday entitlements).

The legislation as proposed would require:

  • Organisations to take action if they become aware of modern slavery or worker exploitation in their operations or supply chains
  • Medium and large organisations to report on steps they are taking to address modern slavery or worker exploitation in their operations or supply chains, and
  • Large organisations to undertake due diligence to prevent, mitigate and remedy modern slavery and worker exploitation in their operations and supply chains.

Although this proposed legislation is not yet law, businesses should start considering now how these changes will affect the way they operate, and the consequences associated with any breach such as monetary penalties and reputational risk.

Incorporated societies – what’s next?

After many years of consultation and deliberation, the new Incorporated Societies Act 2022 was finally passed on 5 April 2022. The Act’s changes will affect all of New Zealand’s 23,000+ societies.

The legislation puts in place a modern framework of legal, governance and accountability obligations for incorporated societies and the people who run them.

All existing societies have at least until 1 December 2025 to ensure their constitution complies with the new requirements and to apply to re-register under the new Act. Societies that do not re-register by that date will be removed from the register.

Although the Act is now in place, there are still regulations to be developed before existing societies can start the re-registration process. These regulations are expected sometime in the next 12 months.

We can help if you are unsure of your obligations under the Act or would like some help with the transition.

 

Next stage of vaping legislation coming into effect

Changes made to New Zealand’s vaping laws are being phased in, with the next changes taking effect over the coming months. The latest changes require all packaging for smokeless tobacco products and vaping products containing nicotine to include specific labels warning of the health dangers and addictive nature of the products. Critical dates for this labelling are:

  • 11 May 2022: manufacturers and importers (should be achieved by now)
  • 25 June 2022: distributors, and
  • 11 August 2022: general and specialist vape retailers.

The staged approach is to allow for stock rotation of products with non-compliant packaging.

You can find more information on vaping regulation here or don’t hesitate to talk with us if you need some help.

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Commercial eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Commercial eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Gift or loan?

The importance of properly documenting advances between family members

The trusty Kiwi “She’ll be right” approach is often manifested in a reluctance to formally document intra-family lending arrangements. Catch cries of “I trust the kids to sort things out between themselves after I’m gone” and “My new partner says she will never make a claim and I believe her” are common, but all too often lead to disputes down the track.

In this article, we look at three different scenarios that are based on Maddy’s story.

Maddy’s parents help out

In 2016, Maddy’s parents decide to help her buy her first home. The bank will not lend to Maddy without a 20% deposit; her parents offer to lend her $250,000 to make up the 20%. The bank’s rules also require her parents to sign a gifting certificate, confirming that they will not require repayment of the money. Despite that, Maddy and her parents agree verbally that the money is a loan, not a gift, and Maddy will pay them back when she can. This is important to Maddy’s parents, as they also want to help their younger daughter, Sarah, into her first home in a few years’ time once Maddy has enough equity in her home to repay them. Maddy takes out a bank loan, secured by a first ranking all obligations mortgage in favour of the bank and buys her first home. Exciting times.

Let’s look at three different ways in which the failure to document that loan could play out.

Scenario 1: Insolvency

Maddy also owns a hospitality business, which she operates as a sole trader. Maddy doesn’t really understand how it all works, but is pleased that having a mortgage means she gets better lending rates for the business, which improves her caé’s cash flow no end.

Unfortunately, in 2020 Covid hits. While the business manages to hang in there for some time thanks to the Covid business loan and the wage subsidy, the recent removal of all government financial assistance and the move to red level in the traffic light system tip the business over the edge. It owes more than $500,000 to the bank, as well as the debt to the government and various suppliers. Maddy’s creditors file bankruptcy proceedings.

Maddy receive a demand from the bank to pay the $500,000-plus it is owed, which means she must sell her house. There is just enough money left after doing that to repay the bank and all the unsecured creditors.

In an attempt to salvage something from the situation, Maddy argues that the amount her parents contributed to the equity was a loan and not a gift. Unfortunately, there is no documentation to support that; the only documentation is the signed gifting certificate. The creditors rightly say that there is no evidence the money was a loan, and therefore they require repayment of their debts in full.

Scenario 2: Succession

Maddy’s parents died shortly after lending her the $250,000 house deposit. Younger sister, Sarah, is shocked when the estate lawyer says that there is only a house property to divide; Sarah says that she knows her parents had more than $250,000 in the bank which they had lent to Maddy to help buy her house.

Sarah appeals to Maddy, saying that they both know their parents lent Maddy the money. Maddy disagrees, pointing to the bank gifting certificate: she says that it was clearly a gift and she refuses to pay anything back. Lacking any evidence of the arrangements between her parents and Maddy, Sarah is forced to reluctantly accept a lesser inheritance than she believes she was entitled to.

Scenario 3: Relationship property

Maddy’s boyfriend Tom moved into her new home shortly after she bought it. Their relationship broke down four years later in 2020 and Tom claims half the equity in the home under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976.

Maddy accepts that the home is their ‘family home’ and that the equity must be divided equally. She argues, however, that in addition to the bank loan they need to take into account the $250,000 owed to her parents.

Tom says that is the first he heard of any loan from Maddy’s parents, and points to the gifting certificate that he found when he was cleaning out some drawers. Maddy is unable to produce any evidence to support her argument that money is owed to her parents, and has to divide the equity without factoring that in.

The lesson

In every scenario outlined above, a dispute could have been avoided, or minimised, had Maddy and her parents entered into a simple agreement recording the existence of the loan. A deed of acknowledgment of debt, prepared at the time that Maddy bought her house, could have been produced for a minimal fee, thus preventing a multitude of unintended consequences later on.

If you are lending money within your family, do contact us to ensure the loan is documented in a way that protects everyone — both now and in the future.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Comparing with Britney Spears’ conservatorship

In the Spring 2021 edition of Trust eSpeaking, we looked at whether someone in New Zealand could end up in a similar situation to American entertainer Britney Spears. Britney was under a conservatorship (or guardianship) arrangement that was established against her wishes.

Britney Spears’ conservatorship has now been formally ended. Since then, she has made a number of specific allegations against her conservators including these four points:

  1. She was paid $2,000 per week, despite earning millions per year; this was less than her conservators were paid
  2. Her conservators were unwilling to allow her to marry
  3. Her conservators required her to use contraception so she could not become pregnant, despite her wanting to start a family, and
  4. Britney was forced to work long hours, against her wishes, and despite her sometimes being very unwell.

Could any of these things have happened in New Zealand under the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988 (PPPRA)? This legislation allows for the appointment of property managers and welfare guardians to make decisions for people who are unable to make decisions for themselves.

The PPPRA also contains what is known as the ‘minimum intervention principle’. When making orders, the court must make the least restrictive intervention possible in a person’s life. Any orders which are made must enable that person to exercise and develop any capacity they may have, to the greatest extent possible.

Let’s look at the four major issues brought up by Britney to illustrate how they would be dealt with in New Zealand. We will call the property manager, Aroha; the welfare guardian, Sam; and Jane is the person whose affairs they manage.

Spending allowance

In New Zealand, Aroha could provide an allowance for Jane. An allowance will help ensure Jane does not spend all of her money and jeopardise her future wellbeing; this allowance will usually be proportionate to Jane’s assets and income. If Jane asks for an increased allowance, the funding for which is available and can be responsibly released, Aroha may well release that money in accordance with the minimum intervention principle.[1]

Aroha can be reimbursed for her out–of-pocket costs, but will not usually be paid for her time administering Jane’s affairs unless the Family Court directs this.[2] Usually only lawyers or other professionals would be paid to act as property manager — not family members.

Marriage

In New Zealand, marriage is not just a social issue; it is a decision that has significant consequences for property under the Property (Relationships) Act 1976. Sam, as Jane’s welfare guardian, may not sign marriage documents on Jane’s behalf nor apply for a divorce for Jane. Marriages have been declared void on the basis that a person did not have sufficient capacity to understand the implications of their decision, particularly the property consequences.[3]

If Jane wants to marry, and given Sam cannot sign marriage documents on her behalf, Jane could approach the Family Court for a capacity assessment and a determination as to whether or not she had capacity to understand the consequences of her decision.

It is possible that Jane may still be able to enter into a de facto relationship; as with a marriage this may also have consequences relating to any property Jane holds.[4]

Medical decisions

Sam can make medical decisions for Jane. It is possible for Sam to decide that Jane should use contraception. If there are concerns about Jane becoming pregnant, the court will usually order long-term reversible contraception rather than sterilisation, in accordance with the minimum intervention principle.[5]

If Sam thought it was important for Jane to use contraceptives, Sam should consult Jane to discuss her wishes. The court might hear from all parties if Jane did not use contraception.

If there was no risk of sexual activity then contraception might not be necessary. If Jane was in a relationship and wanted to have children, the court would consider her capacity to make that decision and direct accordingly.

Working

Jane’s property manager (Aroha) and welfare guardian (Sam) are required to have her best interests at heart. If Jane does not want to work, and is financially secure, it is unlikely that either Aroha or Sam could force Jane to work against her will – even if Jane could generate a substantial income for herself.

Could Britney’s situation arise in New Zealand?

It seems much less likely that someone in New Zealand such as Jane would end up in Britney’s position.

The safeguards discussed in the Spring 2021 edition of Trust eSpeaking would go a long way towards protecting Jane from suffering at the hands of Aroha or Sam. Many of Britney’s specific complaints simply are not permitted under New Zealand law, and others would depend on her capacity. If Britney had capacity to make any specific decision, she would be able to make it herself.

 

[1] Section 28, Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988.

[2] Ibid, Section 50.

[3] X v X [2000] NZFLR 1125; see also Re W [1994] 3 NZLR 600.

[4] See the discussion in E v E (High Court Wellington, CIV-2009-485-2335, 20/11/2009,
Simon France J) at [30]-[35] and [57]-[60].

[5] See the discussion in Darzi v Darzi [2014] NZFC 359 at [32]-[37], although sterilisation was ultimately ordered in that case.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


A parent dies, but the child is unaware of the death

A child (of whatever age) can make a claim[1] against the estate of their parent under the Family Protection Act 1955 (FPA) if their parent dies and makes insufficient provision for them in their will. What happens, however, when a parent dies and their children aren’t aware of the fact?

This situation can be a tricky position for the executor of a will. Executors are obliged to carry out the terms of the will, and they have duties toward the beneficiaries. However they also have duties toward prospective claimants against a will. When an executor is aware that a person intends to make a claim against an estate, they owe a duty of even-handedness toward that person; this includes ensuring that they do not actively and dishonestly conceal relevant material about the estate from potential claimants who seek information about the estate.[2]

This means that if a child has, for example, engaged a lawyer to act for them and indicated that they intend to make a claim against an estate, the executor must provide information to them and consider their position when administering the estate. The executor cannot sneakily pay out all of the estate assets without telling the child or their lawyer.

There is no general duty, however, on an executor to search for all possible claimants against an estate, nor to inform those people of the fact of death or of their right to make a claim against an estate.

In a 2018 case concerning a relatively small estate, the High Court commented that when assessing an executor’s obligations, ‘regard must be had to the cost and difficulty’ of locating possible claimants or interested parties.[3]

This means that if a child is estranged from their parent and may not be aware that their parent has died, an executor does not have to find them and tell them — particularly if the estate is small and a significant cost would be incurred.

By the time the child finds out about their parent’s death, the estate might have been distributed and the child may no longer be able to make a claim.

The extent of an executor’s obligations toward those of whose claims an executor should be aware has not yet been decided by the New Zealand courts. This might be the case where there is a very large estate and the executor knows a child is impoverished and receives nothing under the will. The child might have contacted the executor at some point, but has not indicated they intend to make a claim against the estate. It is not clear, legally speaking, whether the executor has obligations to that child before distributing the estate and, if so, what those obligations are.

The Law Commission’s report

In December 2021, the New Zealand Law Commission released its final report on the law of succession, along with its recommendations for the government, including a new Succession Act. The report includes recommendations regarding an executor’s duty toward prospective claimants against an estate.

One of the two options that the Law Commission recommends in respect of claims by children is that only children under 25 years old or with a disability be able to make a claim for further provision from an estate. This would limit the ability of adult children to bring claims, which they can currently do under the FPA.

The Commission also recommends that the law should require an executor to notify prospective claimants of relevant information related to their rights. If the first recommendation is accepted, this would mean an executor only needs to notify children under 25 years old or with a disability that the death has occurred and of their rights.

Where a prospective claimant is not known or cannot be found, the Commission proposes that an executor’s duty will be satisfied where they take reasonable steps to search for and give notice to that person. This means that if an executor is unaware of a child, and reasonable searches for information do not disclose the child’s existence, the executor won’t be liable for failing to provide notice or information to that child.

Alternatively, and if the government decides to allow all children to continue to make claims against an estate, the Law Commission does not recommend that executors be required to notify children of the death and/or of their rights. This would continue the current situation.

Conclusion

The Law Commission’s recommendations may dramatically change the law about who can claim against their parent’s estate. If the government takes up those recommendations, the Law Commission also proposes that an executor’s duties should change, and that an executor be required to notify children under 25 or disabled children that their parent has died and what their rights are. This could lead to an increase in estate litigation, though in a smaller group of eligible claimants than is currently the case.

 

[1] Minor children, however, will need someone to bring the application on their behalf.

[2] Sadler v Public Trust [2009] NZCA 364, (2009) 28 FRNZ 474 at [35] and [41]; as referred to in Re Application by Lane (in their capacity as trustees and executors of the estate of the late Carson) [2017] NZHC 3144.

[3] Rattray v Palestine Childrens Relief Fund [2018] NZHC 466.

 

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Contractors

A veritable minefield of employment law

From a legal perspective, hiring contractors has always been tricky. The onus of correctly identifying who is an employee versus a contractor, and ensuring legal compliance, remains an employer’s responsibility. The financial consequences of misidentification can be significant for a business owner.

With the rise of the ‘gig economy’, employers are increasingly relying on contractors to fulfil essential roles, so correctly identifying these people’s employment status is more important than ever. The Employment Relations Authority has been very clear that it does not matter that a ‘contractor agreement’ is in place, if the individual behaves like an employee, their employer is responsible for ensuring compliance with the Employment Relations Act 2000 and will be penalised if they fail to do so.

We explore the key features to differentiate between contractors and employees, and what changes may lie ahead for those who fall into the grey area in between.

Defining a contractor

A contractor is a self-employed person who is engaged to provide services privately under contract law and issues invoices for those services. As such, the Employment Relations Act 2000 and all associated entitlements do not apply to the relationship. Key identifying features of a contractor are:

  • They have their own business and are responsible for all their own taxes and associated expenses such as ACC levies
  • They are considered to have an equal bargaining position to the business they are contracting with (in contrast to the power imbalance between an employer/employee)
  • The relationship may not be exclusive
  • They will ordinarily have an element of control or discretion over their daily tasks and work, and
  • Under normal circumstances they are freely able to accept or decline work.

Who is an employee?

Anyone who is not clearly a contractor should be considered an employee until determined otherwise. Red flags should be raised to treat an individual as an employee if there is little discretion on daily tasks, an exclusivity of relationship or they do not complete all their own financial accounting and reporting.

If they are an employee, you will need to assess if they are casual, part-time or full-time and are provided with the appropriate employment agreement and entitlements.

Consequences of getting it wrong

Misidentifying your employee as a contractor can give rise to a personal grievance (PG). The outcome of that PG could result in your employee being entitled to backdated entitlements such as annual leave and sick leave all the way through to the beginning of the relationship. There may also be other financial penalties imposed by the Employment Relations Authority.

Introducing the ‘dependent contractor’

A grey area arises when a person clearly runs their own business but works exclusively for one company or depends heavily on one contract for an income, and has very little discretion in daily tasks.

An example of this is a courier driver who owns their own vehicle, runs their own accounts, is free to contract with third parties and take on additional duties. For the majority of the time, however, they work for one company, are dependent on one income source and have very little control over the day-to-day activities as this is dictated by that company.

The government has consulted on a proposal to introduce legislation designed to protect this type of vulnerable worker. A new category under employment law is proposed called the ‘dependent contractor’ that is designed to protect and enhance the entitlements of this type of contractor such as a courier or rideshare driver. These contractors’ protections would be extended into parts of employment law which means a dependent contractor may be entitled to certain benefits such as sick leave.

These proposals have not been finalised and further consultation is expected this year. If this proposal is enacted, employers will need to be proactive in promptly reviewing and reclassifying (if necessary) their workforce to ensure all dependent contractors are given their new protections and entitlements.

Classify your employees

Ensuring your employees are correctly classified as contractors or employees is essential. Roles such as marketing, social media management, IT support, website management and virtual assistants are all examples of valid contractors who, under the right engagement circumstances, could be considered employees or, if the new proposal becomes law, a dependent contractor.

If you have concerns about correctly classifying an existing contractor or you are a contractor but believe you are probably an employee, please feel free to discuss this with us.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Grounding your jet-setters

The Covid dilemma of annual leave and holidaying offshore

Since Covid appeared in New Zealand in early 2020, employers have navigated a variety of complex matters relating to vaccinations, vaccine passes, alert systems and workforce management.

In this third year of the pandemic, many employers now face difficult decisions around annual leave and international travel ambitions of their valuable staff.

Can employers legitimately deny leave if their staff disclose an intention to travel internationally? What happens when employees are stranded overseas?

As with many employment law areas, responses will depend on the individual circumstances, but we look at some of the general principles that will govern these scenarios.

Disclosure is optional

While most employees freely disclose their leave plans, they are not legally required to tell you what they will be doing in their personal time — including how they take annual leave. As an employer, you may only request additional information relevant to the good faith assessment of the leave request, ensuring that it is not ‘unnecessarily unfair to your employee in the circumstances or unreasonably intrusive on your employee’s personal affairs’[1]. Quizzing employees about their plans could be considered a breach of the Privacy Act 2020 and employer good faith.

Approving/denying leave

You must consider ‘in good faith’ every leave request submitted by your employees. This means you may only reject the leave request on objectively reasonable grounds.

Reasonable grounds to reject leave may apply if your employee:

  • Is required to be present in your workplace during their proposed leave due to prior commitments or key business dates
  • Is required to be present immediately after, or shortly after, their proposed leave and that quarantine or self-isolation may jeopardise that availability, or
  • On their return to New Zealand they may present a significant health and safety risk to themselves or your workplace.

It is anticipated that the majority of leave that is reasonably denied will be due to essential staff shortages and a requirement to be physically present either during the leave period requested or shortly after. It is important to remember, however, that your employees must be allowed to take annual leave within 12 months of their entitlement arising, so perpetual rejection of leave is not permitted.

An argument that a returned employee could present a health and safety risk is unlikely to be considered ‘reasonable’ given that the government is already enforcing stringent public protection measures such as quarantine, self- isolation and ‘trans-Tasman bubble’ pauses. This could change, however, if the government relaxes protection measures and increased responsibility falls on employers to provide a safe workplace.

Someone stranded!

What happens when you have granted annual leave and your employee is stranded overseas or in MIQ? When can you terminate their employment and move on?

Again, the principle of acting in good faith will be the prevailing principle and each situation will be unique.

Some of the most relevant factors to consider are:

  • How long is your employee stranded? If it’s only an additional two to four weeks for MIQ, it’s likely you will have to make do until their return. The appropriate time frame before termination will vary, but in almost all circumstances it would be months before termination was considered a reasonable response.
  • Can your employee work remotely in some capacity? If so, you should support them to work in this way. Dismissing an employee who can work remotely (even if it’s less desirable than in person) would likely be valid grounds for a personal grievance claim.
  • Can your business take alternative measures such as hiring casual or fixed-term contractors? If so, it is likely the role will need to remain open for a much longer time frame before terminating your employee.

During the time your employee is stranded overseas, you must continue to communicate proactively with them and consult with them on how to best rectify the situation. If you have a Covid policy (which is now recommended  for all businesses), this should be followed.

If, after considering all relevant information, it is unlikely that your staff member can return in an acceptable time frame, you may be able to terminate their employment in accordance with their employment agreement.

Employers must ensure their staff have appropriate opportunities to rest and enjoy their accrued entitlements and, generally, this leads to a healthier and more engaged workforce. However, business disruptions can and do happen. Ensuring your Covid policy is up-to-date and undertaking good consultation with employees can lay the foundation to manage whatever circumstances arise.

If you have any difficult annual leave conversations ahead and would like additional support, please contact us.

[1] Privacy Act 2020 Principle.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Business briefs

Charges against Bunnings dismissed

Certain rules for interpreting whether broad marketing statements comply with the Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA) were clarified in a 2021 case brought by the Commerce Commission against Bunnings[1].

The Auckland District Court dismissed charges that Bunnings had misled consumers regarding its prices when it made statements such as ‘lowest prices are just the beginning’, ‘lowest price guaranteed’, ‘lowest prices on all your DIY jobs’ and ‘unbeatable prices’. The Commerce Commission claimed such statements breached the FTA by misleading consumers into thinking Bunnings had the lowest price on all of its items, when in practice it did not.

In finding Bunnings successful, the court considered the following key factors:

  • Bunnings routinely conducted surveys of competitors’ prices and had processes for adjusting prices if a competitor’s pricing was found to be cheaper
  • A reasonable consumer would be aware that a store the size of Bunnings could not know on a daily basis exactly what competitors were charging for every product and that a small number of products may be more expensive
  • The guarantee to beat a lower priced product by 15% implied that some items may be cheaper elsewhere, but it provided a means to ensure consumers could get a lower price at Bunnings, and
  • There was no evidence that consumers had complained of being misled by Bunnings and only one of its competitors had made a complaint.

This case provides guidance to businesses when making broad marketing statements. You should, however, be aware of your obligations under the FTA; if you are unsure about any aspect of the legislation, we can help.

Directors found trading recklessly may face multiple fines

In October last year, the High Court found a director who traded recklessly not only breached his directors’ duties under the Companies Act 1993, but also breached the Fair Trading Act 1986 (FTA)[2].

Panama Road Development Limited (PRDL), a property development company, was encountering delays on a project and its funding was due to expire. Mr Gapes, a director of PRDL, was working to secure further funding. Dempsey Wood Civil Limited (Dempsey) had provided services to PRDL and Mr Gapes assured Dempsey that PRDL had funds to pay for ongoing work. However, PRDL was unable to secure further funding and was put into liquidation.

There were insufficient funds in the liquidation to pay Dempsey for its work, so Dempsey sued Mr Gapes personally. Dempsey alleged that Mr Gapes had not only breached his directors’ duties, but that he also breached the FTA by misleading Dempsey into thinking PRDL had sufficient funds to pay it.

The High Court ordered Mr Gapes to pay $100,000 to PRDL for the breach of his directors’ duties, and an additional $280,000 to Dempsey for breaching the FTA.

This judgment is good news for unsecured creditors who may have an additional avenue for recovering funds in an insolvency situation. It is also a cautionary tale for directors to be careful about any representations they make regarding the financial position of a company should it encounter financial difficulty.

Important upcoming legislation drafted

Two bills introduced in Parliament in 2021 will, if passed, make small but significant changes to the law as it relates to business.

Company law: The Companies Act 1993 requires directors to act in the ‘best interests’ of the company, which was traditionally understood to mean maximising return to shareholders.

If passed, the Companies (Directors Duties) Amendment Bill will clarify that a director may also consider environmental, social and governance factors when determining the best interests of the company,  including:

  • Recognising the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi
  • Reducing adverse environmental impacts
  • Upholding high standards of ethical behaviour
  • Following fair and equitable employment practices, and
  • Recognising the interests of the wider community.

Sexual harassment: The Employment Relations (Extended Time for Personal Grievance for Sexual Harassment) Amendment Bill, if enacted, will extend the time frame for raising a personal grievance for sexual harassment from 90 days to 12 months in an effort to recognise that being exposed to sexual harassment can be traumatic and may take time to process before coming forward.

While it’s expected both bills will become law, they are currently awaiting their first readings and may be changed before being enacted. We will keep you posted.

[1] Commerce Commission v Bunnings Limited [2021] NZDC 8918.

[2] Dempsey Wood Civil Ltd v Gapes [2021] NZHC 2362.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Water Services Act 2021

How does this affect the rural sector?

Water has been very much in the news lately, particularly with the government’s proposed Three Waters Reform Programme. The Three Waters Reform generally deals with the transfer of water infrastructure (drinking water, wastewater and stormwater) to four new water service delivery entities.

What hasn’t been in the news as much is a very important piece of legislation with regard to water that will impact on the rural community: the Water Services Act 2021. This came into force on 15 November 2021. The purpose of this legislation is to ensure that ‘drinking water suppliers’ provide safe drinking water to consumers. Previously, responsibility for drinking water was dealt with under the Health Act 1956 but, as a result of the water contamination issues in Havelock North in 2016 and the subsequent inquiries that resulted from that, it was determined that the supply of safe drinking water was so critical that it needed its own legislation and regulator — Taumata Arowai.

What is a ’drinking water supply’?

A ‘drinking water supply’ means the infrastructure and processes used to abstract, store, treat or transport drinking water for supply to consumers or to another drinking water supply. It includes the point of supply, any endpoint treatment device and any backflow prevention device, but does not include a temporary drinking water supply or a domestic self-supply.

Who is a ‘drinking water supplier’?

The Act defines a supplier as a person who supplies drinking water through a drinking water supply but does not include a ‘domestic self-supplier’. Therefore, the legislation applies to private water schemes as well as any public water supply.

A ‘domestic self-supplier’ means ‘a stand-alone domestic dwelling that has its own supply of drinking water’. So a single farm house with its own water supply will be exempt from complying with the legislation. A large farm, however, that might supply several houses and other buildings such as woolsheds or milking sheds that have staff rooms with kitchens from the same source through a private water system, would be subject to the provisions of the Act.

Similarly there are a significant number of rural water schemes where one water source supplies several properties (particularly where there have been lifestyle-type subdivisions). Sometimes these schemes are administered by virtue of the easements that were created in the subdivision. Occasionally, however, they are administered by companies that own the water infrastructure with all the landowners being shareholders in the company and shares being transferred at the same time as the land.

Drinking water suppliers must have a plan

If the Act applies to your situation, you are required to have a multi-barrier approach to water safety including:

  • Preventing hazards from entering the water
  • Removing particles and hazardous chemicals
  • Killing or inactivating pathogens by disinfection, and
  • Maintaining the quality of water distribution systems.

Each supplier must have a water safety plan that must include elements of international best practice, be proportionate to the scale of the water supply, and be subject to risk-based auditing and monitoring by Taumata Arowai.

What to do next?

The legislation requires a drinking water supplier to register its water supply. The registration must include certain information such as the legal name and contact details of the owner, the location of the supply, the area the drinking water supplies, the estimated number of consumers, a description of the water supply and any other information required by Taumata Arowai. As usual, the application must be accompanied by the fee or levy prescribed by regulations made under the Act.

Water suppliers registered with the Ministry of Health prior to 15 November 2021 will automatically have their registration migrated to the Taumata Arowai register.

Next you must prepare a drinking water safety plan to be lodged with Taumata Arowai. You also must implement the plan and ensure that the drinking water supply is operated in accordance with the plan. You can comply with your operational obligations by employing or engaging a third party to do this for you.

If you are already registered as a drinking water supplier, you must have your plan registered before 15 November 2022.

If you are an existing supplier and not currently registered, you have until 15 November 2025 to register and until 15 November 2028 to submit your plan.

If you are a new supplier, supplying water for the first time after 15 November 2021, you must register as a drinking water supplier and register your plan before you operate your supply.

For more detailed information, Taumata Arowai has what you need here.

The Act has teeth

What all this means in practical terms is more compliance, more cost and more responsibility in relation to water supply. There are penalties for failing to comply with the Act, including some criminal offences such as recklessness or negligence in the supply of unsafe drinking water or allowing contamination of the drinking water.

As you can see, the Act has teeth and it is now incumbent on both public and private suppliers to comply with the new regime — or face the consequences.

If you need help in working your way through this new legislation, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

 

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


No fault is necessary

Many of us are familiar with the tort of negligence — an act or omission by one party that causes loss to another party. Inherent in a negligence claim is the concept of ‘fault’. A recent case[1] illustrates why nuisance, a tort similar to negligence except that fault is not necessary, is still relevant.

Forest trees causing nuisance

Nottingham Forest Trustee Limited (NFT) owned land on which it had planted a commercial forest. Over a period from December 2010 to August 2016 pinus radiata trees growing in the forest, which had been planted many years earlier, fell onto two electricity lines owned and operated by Unison Networks. Unison’s customers experienced power outages while repairs were carried out, and Unison incurred costs as it repaired the damage.

Unison sued NFT both in negligence and in nuisance and sought damages to cover the cost of repairs and also an injunction to prevent future falls of trees.

Background

Unison’s electricity lines crossed over the land while it was a sheep and beef farm, and the power lines were present when NFT acquired the land and planted the forest. In planting the forest, NFT left a corridor under each of the lines approximately 30 metres wide where it didn’t plant trees. The nearest tree to the power line at any point was about 15 metres away.

Over time, however, the trees on the edge of the corridor grew to a height that was greater than the distance from the line. Pinus radiata can grow to 30 metres high. In the High Court proceedings the judge found that by 2010 the trees planted on the edge of the corridor had grown taller than the full distance between those trees and the lines. In those circumstances, there was what the High Court judge described as “a very good chance” that the lines would be hit and damage caused if a tree fell; that started to happen from about December 2010 and again in July 2011. In 2013, a tree fell in a storm causing $20,000 worth of damage to a structure on the line and there were further outages as a result of tree falls in April 2012 and November 2014. In Unison’s view, NFT was liable for the recurring damage (this was in 2015) and wrote to NFT asking that the trees be cleared to prevent further damage. This was resisted by NFT, unless Unison agreed to pay compensation for the loss of the trees.

More tree falls in September 2015 and August 2016 resulted in further damage, with Unison writing to NFT again claiming significant repair costs. This was once again resisted by NFT. NFT’s response was basically that growing trees was a natural use of land; liability for tree falls required fault in tree management and as NFT had complied with the regulatory regime and conducted regular inspections and so on, NFT was not at fault.

Indeed the negligence claim was quickly dismissed by the High Court as Unison  was unable to prove any particular fault on the part of NFT. Unison was, however, successful in its nuisance claim which in essence means if proven ‘strict liability’ follows, there is no need to establish fault. Both parties appealed the findings against them. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s original decision.

About nuisance

A nuisance is defined as ‘any ongoing or current activity or state of affairs that causes a substantial and unreasonable interference with a plaintiff’s land or their use or enjoyment of that land.’ Unison obviously didn’t own any land in the vicinity. It simply owned the power lines that ran over the land. The court, however, held that since a statutory right constituted an interest in land and as the owner of utility works it has the exclusive right to occupy the portion of the soil where the works lie to the exclusion of all others and as such the right was greater than a right given by virtue of easement or licence.

Further, the court said, even if an interest in the land couldn’t be proven, as a matter of policy the existence and importance of works must mean that Unison had sufficient interest to found an action in nuisance. In particular, the court found that NFT created a state of affairs that caused unreasonable and continuing interference with the lines, and was therefore strictly liable even if NFT took reasonable precautions.

What is important to establish in nuisance is to show that a landowner has changed the state of affairs on their land which then causes a loss or damage to either other land or someone with an interest in other land. In this particular case, the change was the planting of the forest where lines already existed on a sheep and beef farm.

A similar case would be, for example, where a landowner interfered with a waterway that resulted in flooding downstream. If the landowner hadn’t interfered or changed the path of the waterway and flooding occurred downstream, there could be no liability under nuisance because that was a natural state of affairs, but by interfering with that natural state of affairs, a nuisance is created.

This case serves as a warning that even where you are not at fault, if you do something on your land that alters its natural state and somebody else’s land (or operation) is affected, you could be liable.

[1] Nottingham Forest Trustee Limited (NFT) v Unison Networks Limited (Unison) [2021] NZCA 227

 

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650


Over the fence

2021 resident visa pathway for migrant workers

A new pathway for migrant workers to gain residency was introduced on 29 September 2021 by Immigration Minister, the Hon Kris Faafoi. This is a one-off resident visa that is targeted for up to 165,000 migrants — including around 9,000 primary industry workers.

In order to comply, a worker must have been in New Zealand on 29 September 2021 and be already subject to an eligible visa or have an application for an eligible visa submitted to Immigration New Zealand by this date. They must also meet one of the following three grounds:

  1. ‘Settled’ worker: lived in New Zealand for at least the past three years
  2. ‘Skilled’ worker: earn the median wage ($27 per hour) or above, or
  3. ‘Scarce’ worker: their role is on a scarce role list.

Since 1 December 2021 migrants who have already applied for residency under certain applications will be eligible to apply under any of the above three categories; these applicants will be notified by Immigration New Zealand. From 1 March 2022 all other eligible migrants can apply.

The pathway is particularly targeted at the primary sector to reflect the difficulties in recruiting workers due to Covid.

It is important to note that this is not a permanent resident visa. An eligibility checker is available on Immigration New Zealand’s website here. Applications will be prioritised and, as a result, Skilled Migrant Expressions of Interest will be frozen until 31 July 2022 when the 2021 resident visa pathway closes.

Covid on the farm

Prevention plans

With the ever-changing nature of Covid, prevention plans are key to keep the virus off your farm. When developing a prevention plan, it’s important to communicate and involve all parties. This includes discussions with your staff, contractors and suppliers so everyone can understand the risks involved and the procedures in place to negate them.

Communication should not stop when a plan is formed, it should be regularly revisited and adjusted if required. It is important to have a plan that reflects the new traffic light system that began on 3 December 2021.

What to include

The plan needs to consider both the people involved and animal welfare. It is important to consider ways to minimise contact between individuals, both within your workplace and with people outside of your workplace. Cleaning procedures, physical distancing, and the physical and mental health of your employees must all be considered when implementing a prevention plan.

What if Covid gets onto the farm?

If one of your workers, a member of their immediate family, or you or your family test positive for Covid or are considered a close contact there should be procedures in place so that your farming operations can continue. This includes ensuring livestock and crops are still cared for should any of your team members be required to self-isolate in a quarantine facility. This is why splitting shifts and creating work bubbles could be beneficial. The Ministry for Primary Industries is available to help co-ordinate services to provide for your animals’ welfare should that be needed.

All farmers must notify their suppliers and contractors should someone on your farm test positive.

Vaccinations and employee rights

In late November the Covid-19 Response (Vaccinations) Legislation Act was passed; this has significant implications on the rights of employees. Employees can now be subject to vaccine mandates by either working in an employment sector required to be vaccinated against Covid by government orders, or working for a business or farm that introduces a company policy mandating vaccination.

Employers must follow certain procedures when introducing a vaccine mandate. You must consider a number of factors when determining what roles require a vaccinated employee. These are expected to include the risk of exposure, transmission, proximity and whether the risk can be mitigated. For some rural sector businesses, interaction with customers and with other staff members is limited and therefore the risk is minimal; this may differ vastly to another business. Therefore the risk associated with a role will be dependent on its responsibilities and the nature of the business itself.

Workers whose role requires vaccination, and who choose not to have the vaccination, still have rights. Employers must exhaust all other avenues before termination including considering redeployment elsewhere. If it is no longer possible to carry out work without being vaccinated, a minimum of four weeks’ paid notice is required.

If one of your unvaccinated employees decides during this time to get vaccinated the notice will then be cancelled, unless it would unreasonably disrupt your workplace. Your employee will not be prevented from the standard entitlements granted on termination if they decide to remain unvaccinated and is able to bring a personal grievance against the business.

The situation around Covid matters is ever-changing; therefore we recommend that you check the government’s Covid websites regularly or talk with us.

DISCLAIMER: All the information published in Rural eSpeaking is true and accurate to the best of the authors’ knowledge. It should not be a substitute for legal advice. No liability is assumed by the authors or publisher for losses suffered by any person or organisation relying directly or indirectly on this newsletter. Views expressed are those of individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the view of Edmonds Judd. Articles appearing in Rural eSpeaking may be reproduced with prior approval from the editor and credit given to the source.
Copyright, NZ LAW Limited, 2021.     Editor: Adrienne Olsen.       E-mail: [email protected].       Ph: 029 286 3650