UPFRONT ERA presides over steady-state in bargaining relations

Changes to New Zealand’s employment law haven’t had quite the intended impact on workplace relations. That’s according to research by Victoria University’s Industrial Relations Centre.

There has been no significant restoration of working conditions lost during the period of the Employment Contracts Act – nor has there been any evidence of wages boom, says centre director, professor Pat Walsh.

“Contrary to the fears expressed by some employers and employer groups prior to the introduction of the ERA [Employment Relations Act], the legislation has presided over fairly steady state environment.”

A more surprising trend, given the ERA’s clear intention to promote collective bargaining, is that bargaining rates have dropped, says Walsh.
However, he says this can be ascribed to requirements in the Act that only registered unions can negotiate collective agreements and only union members and workers in their first 30 days of employment are covered by these agreements.

“These requirements mean our survey is no longer able to capture the reach of collective bargaining – or the extent to which union-negotiated conditions are flowed on to non-union workers, although we know anecdotally this practice is widespread.”

The research also found that employees in the public sector are over five times more likely to be collectivised than their counterparts in the private sector. That could be because just over half of all trade union members are employed in the public sector.

Those employees are also more likely to be covered by multi-employer collective agreement than in the past.

The most predictable finding from the research was slow but steady growth in union membership.

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