The Global State of Workers' Rights - New Zealand


There is no distinct labor code in New Zealand. Instead, worker rights are governed by a series of federal laws. Among the most important are the Bill of Rights Act of 1990, the Employment Relations Act (ERA) of 2001, the Minimum Wage Act of 1983, the Equal Pay Act of 1972, the Health and Safety in Employment Act of 1908, the Holiday Act of 1981, and the Privacy Act of 1993. These and other relevant statutes set out the minimum rights for workers. The Employment Relations Authority, the Employment Court, and the New Zealand Court of Appeal oversee interpretation and application of the ERA. The courts and tribunals have considerable room to apply and develop common-law principles.

While unions must be registered with the government, the process is fairly simple. Unions are independent of both government and employers.

The laws permit strikes and collective bargaining. In fact, the ERA promotes collective bargaining as a stated objective, and allows unions to charge fees to nonunion workers who benefit from union-negotiated wages and conditions. However, strikes and lockouts are not permitted when a collective agreement is in effect. The only exceptions are for health or safety reasons. Advanced notification of a strike to both the employer and the chief executive of the Department of Labor is required if the strike affects the public interest.

The Council of Trade Unions is the largest trade union federation in New Zealand, representing about 350,000 union members and 40 affiliated unions. The Public Service Association is the largest public-sector trade union. There are also unions representing Maori workers nationwide. Union membership has continued to decline even as the number of labor unions has grown. Today, only about 18 percent of the total employed labor force is unionized, compared with more than 33 percent about two decades ago. The greatest losses have been in the agricultural, fishing, hunting, and forestry sectors.

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