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Published June 28, 2017 (last updated on December 4, 2023) | Adam Wyatt - Copywriter and Content Creator

The key role of unions will primarily be in the negotiation of collective employment agreements but they also advocate more generally on behalf of employees. Despite the role of unions in workplaces being quite prominent in some industries, whether or not to join a trade union in New Zealand is entirely up to the employee.

What is a union?

Broadly speaking a union is an organisation that will aim to support employees in their workplace by acting on their behalf collectively, and in the case of some employees individually. You will typically encounter a union when it comes to bargaining for collective employment agreements, however you may also engage with a union as employees seek their help and advice on work-related issues. Your employees will have to pay a sign-up fee to become a member..

To be a registered union, a party will require 15 members, become incorporated, and then register the details..

Union membership is a choice

Your employees have the ability to choose whether or not they join a union. As an employer, you, and your managers and supervisors, cannot threaten an employee to join or not join up, or to not act on behalf of employees. You certainly cannot threaten an employee to leave their job based on their union membership.

As an employer, you cannot have in place an agreement or contract that requires anyone to join or not join a union and you cannot treat any employee differently based on their membership. Regardless of whether you are treating an employee better or worse, it is unlawful if this treatment is based on their union membership.

The way you treat an employee needs to be the same as every other employee, and you cannot discriminate against an employee based on their union activities. The full list of union activities are covered, meaning an employee’s role as a delegate or participant in a lawful strike cannot be used against them at any stage.

Union meetings

Each of your employees is entitled to attend at least two meetings (up to two hours long each) every calendar year. If an employee would ordinarily be working during the time a union meeting is held you are required to pay them their ordinary rate. Similarly, if a meeting is during business hours but an employee would not normally be working you are not required to pay them for attending the meeting.

However, an employment agreement can outline entitlements above the minimum level such as a meeting lasting four hours each time it is held. You should be careful to note what is in your employment agreement before paying, or not paying, an employee based on attending a union meeting.

Can a union walk into my workplace?

While unions, employees, and employers are encouraged to always act in good faith, there are some basic entitlements for unions to enter a workplace, which includes:

• they reasonably believe members of their union work there
• they reasonably believe an employee covered by the union’s membership rule works for you

Can I say no to a union entering my workplace?

If a union representative wants to enter your workplace, they can do so at a reasonable time when any employee is there to work, but they must tell you first.

When you get a request from a union to enter your workplace, you cannot unreasonably say no and you also must give them the answer as soon as possible. If you say no, your reasons must be in writing provided to the representative that made the request the next working day after your decision is made. If you say no and do not give reasons, the Employment Relations Authority is likely to provide a financial penalty. Employers should also note, if you simply do not respond this is taken as an automatic yes and the union can lawfully enter.

The presence of unions in your workplace can be a challenge to manage properly, but you should always remember to act in good faith. For advice and support contact Employsure on 0800 568 012.

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