chapter  6
23 Pages

Unions in New Zealand: What the Law Giveth ...

Unions in New Zealand have historically been creatures of the state. They operated under a system of state patronage in the period 1894-1991, and while their fortunes fluctuated according to the differing political, economic and social environments of that period, those fluctuations were not great as they retained patronage throughout. Hare (1946, p. 174) noted that in other countries the law facilitated the development of potentially strong spontaneous union movements. In New Zealand, however, the greater part of unions would not exist, he argued, if it were not for the state which called them into being as a prior condition to enforcing minimum wage rates. In 1991, New Zealand unions lost their patronage and their distinct legal status in employment law. In losing their patronage they lost their monopoly status, their exclusive rights to represent employees, their rights to compulsory union membership, and their rights to a collective bargaining framework that locked employers into a state-sponsored system of 'awards'. This chapter reviews the background and history of patronage and the effects of its removal on New Zealand unions.