Unions revitalised under a new Government


Only weeks into a new Labour lead Government’s term in office the Union Organisers are already showing a revitalised sense of enthusiasm. Under the previous National Government’s reign, Unions (outside of the Public Sector) have faced a retrenching membership with many Employees electing to ‘go-it-alone’ believing that the Union movement could not offer them any more than they may have been able to negotiate for themselves.

Under National, the Union movement maintained a presence within business, however as the National Government progressed with many of its initiatives to enhance the economy Union Negotiations primarily centred on seeking incremental increases to wage rates and minor adjustments to core terms and conditions. Within this environment strike action was almost non-existent with such actions more limited to ‘fringe based’ issues within more radical ‘protester-based’ environments – i.e. the Unite Union’s attacks on minimum wage workers rights and zero hour agreements.

However under a new Government regime, and one backed heavily by the Unions, there is already strong evidence that the next three (3) years will see a strong push by the Unions to seek to re-establish and strengthen their position within the private business sector.

A business only needs to have two (2) Employees who are members of a Union prior to that Union being entitled to initiate bargaining for a Collective Employment Agreement that covers the work functions undertaken by the majority of the Employees.

Even where the business has no current Union members, under section 20 of The Employment Relations Act 2000, the Union has a right to request access to the business “for the purpose of recruiting Employees as Union Members”. The rules of access are very broad with the Union not needing to have any members on that site prior to submitting an access request – the belief that Employees have the potential to become members may be sufficient. When receiving a s20 Access Request the Employer cannot make decisions on behalf of their Employees by stating that the Union’s presence is not wanted and therefore has to open their doors to enable a Union Official to ‘walk the floor’ and speak to individual Employees about the Union. Only the Employees on an individual basis can reject the Union’s approach to them.

Such access requests raise significant questions from a Health and Safety perspective (particularly in safety sensitive work environments) however this cannot be used as an excuse to reject the Union’s request with Employers being open to a financial penalty if an access request is unjustifiably denied.

If  a minimum of two (2) members can be established, there could be no doubt that a request for Collective Bargaining would soon follow requiring the Employer to participate in the full bargaining process in Good Faith – although this may result in the members receiving nothing greater than they already hold within their respective Individual Employment Agreements.

The processes of engaging and bargaining with Unions can be complex, with a Union’s right to seek to initiate a number of forms of industrial action to reinforce their stance is likely to be seen more commonly over the next few years.

If you have any questions about Union engagement, Union rights or Collective Agreements please feel free to contact us directly.

This article is written by Russell Drake, of Russell Drake Consulting Limited, Licenced Contractors to the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) who Act exclusively for Employers in all employment relations situations, including Collective Bargaining processes - see www.russelldrakeconsulting.co.nz or phone (07) 838 0018.


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