Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Unions and Union Membership in New Zealand: Annual Review for 2006

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Unions and Union Membership in New Zealand: Annual Review for 2006

Article excerpt


This paper continues the series of annual surveys by the Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) on trade union membership in New Zealand, which began in 1991 when the Employment Contracts Act (ECA) ended the practice of union registration and the collection of union data. Although the Department of Labour began collecting official union data again in 2002, the IRC has continued to survey union membership under the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA). This year we report on changes in union membership, composition, and density from December 2005 to December 2006.

Some of the more significant findings for the period are:

* A modest increase in overall union membership of 5,190 (just under 1.4%). This indicates a significant slowing in membership growth, which in 2005 increased by 6.6% (23,290 members), and which had grown by 25% since 1999.

* A slight decline in union density, from the 2005 figure of 21.9% down to 21.7% in 2006, within the context of an increase of 2.6% in the overall number of wage and salary earners, from 1,719,500 to 1,764,500.

* An increase in private sector union membership of 4,945 members (2.8%), with a loss in public sector membership of 4,538 members (2.3%), although the public sector remains much more highly unionised.

* A substantial increase in membership - 24% (3,520 members) - in retail, wholesale, restaurants and hotels, reversing the trend of recent years, although union density in the area remains low (4.5%). On the other hand, in the already lowly-unionised area of finance, insurance and business services membership declined by a further 18% (2,421 members).

* A steady, if gradual, concentration of membership in CTU affiliated unions: in 2006, CTU affiliates accounted for 89% of all union members, up from 88.4% in 2005.


Our survey included those unions registered as at 31 December, 2006, as per the Department of Labour website of registered unions (see and the Department's Annual Report 2006). In late January 2006, each of the registered unions was sent a survey requesting membership numbers as at 31 December 2006. One hundred and five unions responded. For those that did not, we obtained details either through telephone contact or drawing on the Department's Annual Report 2006. In the time between last year's survey and the return of this year's survey, nine unions deregistered and five new unions registered, bringing the total number of unions to 166 (see Appendix for explanation of union registration under ERA). Five unions out of nine voluntarily deregistered due to amalgamation.

Trade union membership and density

Table 1 summarises the historical trend in trade union membership and union density (defined as the proportion of potential union members who belong to a union ) for the period 1991-2006. While we provide relevant figures for the total employed labour force (which includes, among others, the self-employed and unpaid family members, who are very unlikely to be union members), the most meaningful measure of union density is the proportion of wage and salary earners.

In our review for 2005, we had reported on the largest single increase in union membership since the IRC surveys began - 6.6% (23,290 members). This year, however, the growth in overall numbers has been considerably less impressive, at under 1.4% (5,190 members). Whereas in 2005 union membership outstripped growth in wage and salary earners, in 2006 union membership again fell behind the growth in wage and salary earners, leading to a small decline in union density to 21.7%, from 21.9%. Overall union density has remained within the narrow range of 21 to 22% 1998, indicating aremarkable level of stability.

Union membership and employment by industry

This section of the paper provides a summary of wage and salary earners and union members, according to the Australia New Zealand Standard Industry Classification, during the year to December 2006, in order to indicate the areas of relative union strength and weakness (Table 2). …

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