In the past union membership in New Zealand was based on your occupation. This is sometimes still the case, but it is often now that one union will represent all the people working at a particular worksite, regardless of the job they do.
At the same time there can be single worksites where a number of different unions represent people doing the same thing.
Also not all unions in New Zealand are represented in this “Find Your Union” tool. It focuses on unions that are members of the NZCTU. The vast majority of larger unions are members – and a number of smaller ones as well. However there are almost 140 unions registered in New Zealand –most of these are limited to one small workplace.
But the reality is that, while there 350,000 people in unions in New Zealand, that is less than one quarter of the workforce. The portion of union members in the public sector (people employed by government) is almost half and is higher than the private sector. In the private sector you are much more likely to find union members in larger companies in manufacturing, transport, warehousing or care services.
Under employment and human rights law, wanting to join in union cannot be a barrier to getting or keeping a job. Also, if there is a collective agreement at your workplace (an employment agreement negotiated by a union that covers multiple employees) you employer is obliged to tell you about it.
Keeping all of that in mind, if there isn’t an obvious union you can join in your current workplace there are still some things worth remembering:
- Talking with your colleagues and workmates about work issues is a good thing. It is always easier to solve problems together. And it is the starting point for joining in union.
- All people who are employed should have a written employment agreement. It might seem too formal or you might feel uncomfortable asking about it. But a written agreement means there is clearer understanding of the “rules” that you and your employer agree to. And if you don’t get offered when you start– you’re not alone. Statistics New Zealand suggest 170,000 don’t have an employment agreement.
- When you are asked to sign an employment agreement – when you start a job – you have a right to take the time to seek advice about it. You don’t have to sign on the spot.
- The law says that the relationship between you and your employers is based on “good faith”. You can expect that from your employer, but it also applies to you.
- Like an employment agreement, keeping a written record of important things that happen in relation to your employment – who, what, when and where – is a good thing to do. It helps you to be clear in your mind about what is happening and is always very useful if there is a disagreement.
There are also a number of places you can go for more information:
Employment New Zealand (https://employment.govt.nz/starting-employment/rights-and-responsibilities/minimum-rights- of-employees/) , part of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, has advice about your employment rights.
The Citizens Advice Bureau can also provide some support. (http://www.cab.org.nz/vat/eb/Pages/home.aspx)
And you can also look to Community Law (http://communitylaw.org.nz/) to provide some advice if you have a particular employment-related legal issue.