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

Unions and Union Membership in New Zealand: Annual Review for 2008

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

Unions and Union Membership in New Zealand: Annual Review for 2008

Article excerpt

Introduction

This report continues the series of annual surveys on trade union membership in New Zealand, which Victoria University of Wellington's Industrial Relations Centre (IRC) 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 subsequently recommenced both the process of union registration and the collection of official union data under the Employment Relations Act (ERA), the IRC has continued to conduct its survey of union membership. We are, therefore, able to report on trends in union membership, composition and density from the enactment of the ECA to the present.

In this report, we update our reporting of those trends to include the period extending from December 2006 to December 2008. Between 1991 and 2006, information pertaining to membership of trade unions was compiled through an annual survey carried out by the IRC, with funding from the Public Good Science Fund, administered by the Foundation for Research Science and Technology. Following more than a year without such funding, the IRC has recommenced running that survey and reporting its results with publication of this report. Since the IRC did not conduct a survey in 2007, comparisons in union membership in this document are based on the IRCs 2006 survey data.

Union membership survey

The IRCs union membership survey for 2008 includes those unions registered as at 1 March 2009, as per the Department of Labour's (DOL) list of registered unions reported in the Department's Union Membership Return Report 2009 on its website, www.ers.dol.govt.nz/union/registration.html (DOL, 2009a). In late May of 2009, each registered union in New Zealand was sent a survey requesting membership numbers as at 31 December 2008. Thirty-six unions, representing 93 percent of total union membership reported by the New Zealand Department of Labour in its 2009 Annual Report (DOL, 2009b), responded. For those that did not, details were obtained from the DOL Union Membership Return Report 2009 and the industry distribution for that union was carried over from the data included in the IRCs 2006 union membership survey (DOLc). In addition, to enable comparison and monitoring of trends in future years, the DOL figures reported in the Union Membership Return Report 2008 have been added to our database as 2007 data. It is important to note, however, that the DOL survey is for the year ending 01 March, while the IRC survey is to 31 December the previous year.

Ten unions that remain officially registered did not provide survey returns to either the IRC or the DOL for 2008; all have been designated 'inactive' for this report and no membership figures are included for those unions herein. In the time between the 2006 survey and the return of this year's survey, 13 new unions were registered, 12 unions deregistered and a further 2 went into recess, 2 unions (ASTE and AUS) amalgamated to form one union (TEU), and a further union (Clothing, Laundry and Allied Workers) merged into another (NDU). In addition, 13 unions did not submit surveys to the DOL for March 2008; these unions remain 'active' in our database for 2007 and their membership numbers have been rolled over from our 2006 survey. The total number of unions included in our data is 141 of the 159 unions officially registered with the DOL at 1 March 2009

Trade union membership and density

Table 1 summarises the historical trend in trade union membership and union density in New Zealand from the enactment of the ECA in 1991. Under the ECA9 there was no requirement, let alone official process, of union registration in New Zealand. In addition, some employee organisations included in tallies of union membership in that period were effectively established by employers under the ECA. In light of this, and because unions under the ERA must be constituted and operate 'at arm's length from any employer', one would expect members of employer-dominated organisations not to have been counted in union membership tallies for the past decade. …

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