The Rise and Rise of Collective Agreements

 

With a change of Government in late 2017 Unions are already starting to discover a new lease of life with activity within the workplace growing significantly.

The Coalition’s more favourable stance on the role of Unions within the New Zealand workforce, supported by pending law changes that will promote collective bargaining, will soon see many Employers facing situations they have not encountered in the last decade.

A Collective Employment Agreement can only exist after consultation and agreement with the Employer and where there are two or more members of the Union employed within the workplace. The Union must initiate bargaining for the proposed collective by issuing a notice to the Employer specifying the nature of the work types to be covered by the Agreement. The Employer must then negotiate in Good Faith with the outcome likely to be the agreement of common Terms and Conditions of employment which covers not just those Employees who are members of the Union at the time of ratification, but any other Employees whose work falls under the coverage clause, and who join the Union during the currency of the Collective – a period not exceeding three (3) years but more likely to be in 12 month renewals.

Proposals already announced by the Government, but still subject to the drafting of legislation, select committee consideration, public submissions and then reading within Parliament (a process that can traditionally take 6 – 9 months) will however see the ability of the Unions to capitalise on this new environment increase significantly. These proposed changes include:

  • Freeing up the “access” ability for Union Officials to enter the workplace to canvas for new members and to promote the benefits (as they see them) of Collective Bargaining and Implementing greater protection to Union Members;
  • The reinstatement of the “90 Day Rule” meaning that any new Employee, in a workplace where a Collective already exists, will automatically be covered by the Terms and Conditions of that Collective for the first 90 days of their employment without them having to join the Union;
  • Strengthening of the obligation to conclude bargaining for a Collective Agreement and removal of the ability of the Employer to opt out of a Multi-Union Collective Agreement covering several workplaces;
  • Outlawing of the current legal provisions to deduct part of the Employee's weekly pay when the Union implement a partial strike;
  • The requirement to pay Union Representatives reasonable pay rates while conducting Union business during ordinary business hours. 

Given the above proposed (pending) changes, it is highly likely that Union Membership will increase significantly during the term of the current Government (as this is what the changes are designed to achieve) with this resulting in new Collective Agreements being established in workplaces that have not experienced this previously. This can significantly change the workplace environment and as such Employers will need to exercise a high degree of caution in all aspects of the potential relationship with a Union.

At Russell Drake Consulting we specialise in providing representation to Employers in all aspects of the relationship with a Union, and in facilitating the collective bargaining process. If you have any questions in relation to the content of this article or require any assistance related to Union Membership or Collective Agreements please feel free to give us a call.

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