Unions are predicting a battle with government agencies over the inclusion of the 90-day trial period following a directive from the State Services Commission (SSC) that it expects the trial period to be included in new contracts.
New employment laws come into effect in April, extending to larger companies rules allowing them to dismiss workers within a 90-day trial period without them able to take an unjustified-dismissal case and making union access to workplaces dependent on employer approval.
But unions have been negotiating to exempt their members from the new law by keeping it out of their collective contracts, which has included agreements signed with the Dairy Workers Union with Fonterra, the Tertiary Education Union with Victoria and Massey universities, and the Service and Food Workers Union.
However, SSC deputy commissioner Peter Brown, in an email to government agencies last year, said the law changes were government policy. "Accordingly, state sector agencies are expected to implement them."
Agencies -- including police, teachers, nurses and firefighters -- should not "contract out of aspects of the new provisions or contract to restrict any application of them", said the email, obtained by the NZ Herald.
The Public Service Association (PSA) represents about 57,000 members working in government departments.
National secretary Brenda Pilott said all agencies had essentially been instructed they were not allowed to contract out of aspects of the new provisions.
The PSA, opposed to the "unnecessary and unworkable" legislation, would not agree to having 90-day trial periods in collective agreements and was on a collision course with government agencies that insisted on the 90-day trial period, she said.
Most employers would set aside the 90-day law in order to attract qualified people and it could make recruitment difficult.
"It does appear the hands of employers are going to be tied by this and we think that is a real concern.
"It's going to make collective bargaining very difficult."
The PSA would not initially raise the issue in bargaining but would wait to see how the government agencies approached it, Ms Pilott said.
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly also predicted there would be industrial action where workers asked for it and it was denied.
"We know from many conversations already across the bargaining tables with many government departments that they don't really want to use these laws."
In the health sector the relationship was very good and to deny union access would be ridiculous, she said.
But SSC spokesman Jason Ryan said the 90-day trial was still up for negotiation in collective contracts.
Government agency chief executives had full responsibilities for their operational matters and the SSC could not tell them how to run their business, he said.
"Like every other employer they will negotiate with their prospective employee around aspects of the terms of their employment."
However, he was obliged under employment law to set out guidelines, that on principle, if the Government introduced legislation then departments would follow that legislation.
Labour's State Services spokesman, Grant Robertson, said Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson told Parliament last year the law was optional, not compulsory, which was now at odds with what the SSC was now saying.