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Employees' rights in New Zealand - Trade unions & Right to association

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Employment Relations Act 2000
The Employment Relations Act 2000 (the "ER Act") is the most fundamental employment law statute in New Zealand. The ER Act repealed the Employment Contracts Act 1991 (the "ECA"). It enacts a number of core provisions on freedom of association, recognition and operation of unions, collective bargaining, collective agreements, individual employment agreements, employment relations education leave, strikes and lockouts, personal grievances, disputes, enforcement of employment agreements, the Mediation Service, the Employment Court, the Employment Relations Authority and labour inspectors.

Many of the key provisions apply once an employment relationship has begun. This includes a principle duty to act in good faith and to communicate openly. Other provisions operate on an ongoing basis irrespective of the employment relationship and are more declarative (as in the case of trade union operations), or administrative (as in the operation of the Employment Relations Authority) in nature.

Trade unions
Section 110 of the ER Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for their involvement (or non-involvement) in a union or other employees organisation. The ER Act acknowledges that there is an "inherent inequality of power in employment relationships" and promotes collective bargaining (Section 3) as a way of evening up the power disparity between employers and employees. It also "recognise(s) the role of unions in promoting their members' collective employment interests" in Section 12. Other important recognition's contained in the Act include:

Part 4: Recognises the operation of unions generally;
Part 5: Recognises the right to collective bargaining, and;
Part 8: Recognises the right to strike.

Right to association
Under Part 3 of the ER Act trade unions in New Zealand have the right to association:

(a) employees have the freedom to choose whether or not to form a union or be members of a union for the purpose of advancing their collective employment interests; and
(b) no person may, in relation to employment issues, confer any preference or apply any undue influence, directly or indirectly, on another person because the other person is or is not a member of a union.

Employment Relations Authority
Under section 157 the Employment Relations Authority is defined as an investigative body that examines the facts of the case, as opposed to legal technicalities, in seeking to resolve problems with the parties' employment relationship.


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