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, and
  • negotiating collective employment agreements, and
  • representing members in relation to their individual rights as an employee, if the member has authorised the union to do this, and
  • giving advice and assistance on the rights and obligations of employers and employees, and
  • representing its members if they have a dispute or legal claim (“personal grievance”).

Joining a union

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 7–11, 110

As an employee you have the right to:

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

Your boss can’t pressure you into not joining a union, use threats or incentives to make you quit the union, or treat you unfairly because you’re a union member.

Your boss can’t pressure you into not joining a union, use threats or incentives to make you quit the union, or treat you unfairly because you’re a union member.

What the union can do

Employment Relations Act 2000, ss 18, 18A, 20, 20A

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

A union member in your workplace will be chosen by members to represent them – this person is called your union delegate. Your union delegate is entitled to a reasonable amount of paid time to do the things necessary to represent the union members.

Union organisers are people who 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.

If there’s already a collective agreement between the employer and the union for that workplace, or bargaining for a collective agreement is underway, the organiser doesn’t need to ask permission to come into the workplace. 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
  • 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 you with free initial legal advice.

Find your local Community Law Centre online: www.communitylaw.org.nz/our-law-centres

Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment

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

Website: www.employment.govt.nz
Phone: 0800 20 90 20
Starting a job: www.employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/
Leaving a job: www.employment.govt.nz/ending-employment/

Te Kauae Kaimahi/
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions

Te Kauae Kaimahi 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.

Website: www.union.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: (04) 385 1334

New Zealand Prostitutes Collective

The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective is 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.

Website: www.nzpc.org.nz
Email: info@nzpc.org.nz
Phone: 04 382 8791
Instagram: www.instagram.com/_nzpc/

Union Network of Migrants (UNEMIG)

UNEMIG or Union Network of Migrants is an association of migrant workers within FIRST Union.

Website: www.unemig.org.nz
Email: unemig@firstunion.org.nz 
Phone: 0800 863 477

Migrant Workers Association

The Migrant Workers Association NZ fights for migrant workers’ rights and against injustice and exploitation in the workplace.

Website: migrantworkers.org.nz
Email: help@migrantworkers.org.nz
Phone: 0800 863 477
Facebook: www.facebook.com/migrantworkersassociationaotearoa/

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