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Your Rights

Many employers are reasonable but, sadly, some aren’t. It’s important to know your rights.

Everyone has the right to decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity. Unions ensure that, as a worker, your voice is heard, your views are respected and your rights under the law are upheld.

Depending on your age and how long you’ve been in the job, your rights at work include things like being paid at least the current minimum wage, having a written employment agreement and having sick leave and public holidays.

The Employment New Zealand website (formerly the Department of Labour, now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) can tell you more about your rights.

Joining a Union

Unions exist for workers to support each other so that they don’t have to face a problem, or negotiate improvements to their working conditions, on their own.  When workers act together they have strength and safety in numbers and have a better chance of getting what they need at work and beyond.

Unions are democratically run by their members.  Union members elect union representatives (delegates) from workplaces, and make decisions on things like how the union is run, and what to focus on when negotiating with the employer.

Through the NZ Council of Trade Unions Te Kauae Kaimahi, unions work co-operatively with each other to improve the position of all New Zealand workers. The benefits most workers receive today are largely the result of what unions have gained for their members in terms of wages, benefits and working conditions over the last 100 years.

You can find out what union covers workers in your occupation or industry

When You Start a Job

Here are eleven pieces of advice to keep in mind if you are starting a new job.

  1. You have the right to join a union. It’s your choice, not the employer’s.
  2. If there is a collective employment agreement (an agreement negotiated by a union) covering your workplace, the employer must give you a copy of that agreement.
  3. You don’t have to agree to a 90-day trial period that takes away your protection against being unfairly sacked. You can say no.
  4. If your new employer insists on a 90-day  clause, you have the right to suggest alternative versions. See our suggestions
  5. And if your employer want’s a 90-day trial period clause, it must be in writing in your employment agreement. If it’s not in writing it won’t apply.
  6. You also don’t have to agree to unreasonable conditions suggested by the employer, like deductions from pay at the time of dismissal or requirements to work your notice after short periods of employment.  You can say no to these.
  7. You must get a reasonable chance to get advice – from a family member, lawyer, adviser or union  – before you sign your employment agreement.
  8. Regardless of what’s in your agreement, once you’ve started work and if you’re on a trial, make sure you ask your employer how you’re going a few times in your first few weeks.
  9. If you’re asked to do work that is dangerous and you don’t think you have the skills or the right protective gear, and you’re threatened with the sack if you don’t do it, the employer will be breaking the law,  ring Worksafe New Zealand (0800 030 040) as soon as you can and tell them.
  10. If you think you’re being treated differently at work just because you’re on a trial period the employer will be acting unlawfully and you can challenge it.
  11. If you’re sacked under a trial period clause, get advice because you may still have grounds for legal action if the employer has been unfair or discriminatory.

The Employment New Zealand website (formerly the Department of Labour, now part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment) gives a range of information about  employment rights, including the new 90 Day trial rules.