Union rights


What is a union?

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 13, 18, 236

A union is an association of employees that exists to protect and improve its members’ conditions of work and to generally represent their interests.

The role of a union includes:

  • representing its members on any issues that involve the members’ collective employment interests
  • negotiating collective employment agreements
  • representing members in relation to their individual rights as an employee, if the member has authorised the union to do this
  • giving advice and assistance on the rights and obligations of employers and employees
  • representing its members if they have a personal grievance or dispute (see the chapter “Resolving employment problems”).

Joining a union

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 7–11

As an employee you have the right to:

  • join a union
  • decide which particular union you should join (out of those unions that cover the type of work you do)
  • not join a union, or resign from a union.

Your boss can’t pressure you into not joining a union, or treat you unfairly (“discriminate” against you) because you’re a union member.

Employment Relations Act 2000, s 110

You can take a legal claim (a personal grievance) against your boss if:

  • they tell you that you can’t belong to a union if you want to keep your job, or
  • they use threats or incentives to make you quit the union or to stop you representing other workers in that workplace.

What the union can do

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 18, 18A

Unions are entitled to represent their members on any issues that involve their collective interests as workers.

Your union delegate is entitled to a reasonable amount of paid time to do the things necessary to represent the union members. A “delegate” is a union member in your workplace who’s been chosen by the union members there to represent them (another older word for this is “shop steward”).

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 20, 20A

Union “organisers” work for the union and spend time at different workplaces representing the union members there. Organisers and other union representatives are entitled to come into the workplace on union business.

The organiser doesn’t need to ask the employer’s permission first if there’s a collective agreement in force between the employer and the union for that workplace, or if either the union or the employer has initiated bargaining for a collective agreement. In other cases the union has to ask the employer’s permission, but the employer can’t unreasonably refuse.

The different reasons for which the union can come into the workplace include, for example:

  • to bargain for a collective agreement
  • to deal with health and safety issues (including for non-union members who ask the union to represent them)
  • to check that the employer is following a collective agreement
  • to check that the employer is doing what they’re supposed to under the law (the Holidays Act for example)
  • to deal with issues under a union member’s individual employment agreement
  • to recruit workers to the union, including giving them information about the union, or
  • to deal with union business.

Union meetings

Employment Relations Act 2000, s 26

Union members are allowed to attend at least two union meetings each year, for up to two hours for each meeting, on full pay.

Did this answer your question?

Starting and leaving a job

Where to go for more support

Community Law


Your local Community Law Centre can provide free initial legal information, advice and education about employment law issues.

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment


The Employment website of the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment publishes a range of publications on employment relations and minimum rights at work.

Free phone: 0800 20 90 20, for general enquiries about employment relations, pay and holidays.

For translated employment information go to www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/rights-and-responsibilities/minimum-rights-of-employees-translations/#minimum

Reporting migrant exploitation


Make a complaint to the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment about migrant exploitation with this online form.

If you need help completing the form or would like to speak to an interpreter, call 0800 200 088 between 8:00am – 5:30pm, Monday to Friday. You will be connected with an interpreter after you say the name of the language you speak.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, Te Kauae Kaimahi


Phone: (04) 385 1334
Email: info@nzctu.org.nz

The NZCTU is the umbrella body for affiliated unions covering every job and industry in New Zealand. It can provide information about which union may cover the type of work you do.

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective


A nationwide organisation run by sex workers for sex workers. They provide information and services for people who are doing sex work or thinking about doing sex work.

Phone (04) 382 8791
Mobile and media inquiries: 027 496 0700
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz

Migrant worker organisations

Union Network of Migrants – UNEMIG


Part of FIRST Union

Phone: 0800 863477

Migrant Workers Association


Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz

Also available as a book

The Community Law Manual

The Manual contains over 1000 pages of easy-to-read legal info and comprehensive answers to common legal questions. From ACC to family law, health & disability, jobs, benefits & flats, Tāonga Māori, immigration and refugee law and much more, the Manual covers just about every area of community and personal life.

Buy The Community Law Manual

Help the manual

We’re a small team that relies on the generosity of all our supporters. You can make a one-off donation or become a supporter by sponsoring the Manual for a community organisation near you. Every contribution helps us to continue updating and improving our legal information, year after year.

Donate Become a Supporter

Find the Answer to your Legal Question

back to top