Statistics released by Victoria University's Industrial Relations Centre show that proportions of workers in collective employment agreements has dropped. Reports in the media say, for example, that private sector employees in collective agreements has dropped from 21% in 1995 to only 9% now. Such stats have been reported here by NZPA, here by the Independent, and here by David Farrar - but all of these reports appear to confused collective employment agreements with union membership. The Vic Industrial Relations Centre hasn't reported on union membership since 2004, and will be doing so in a few months, but as I understand it, they don't expect to see much difference between the figures for 2004 and 2006. See below for more from the (confused) Independent story:
Union numbers slump under Labour
- Jenni McManus, Independent
TRADE union membership in the private sector has haemorrhaged to its lowest level in 16 years.
Statistics just released by Victoria University's Industrial Relations Centre reveal in March this year only 9% of employees were members of collective agreements, compared with 21% in 1995 and 2000, and 48% in 1990 - the year before the National government passed the Employment Contracts Act.
Curiously, the biggest drop in private sector union membership &endash; from 21% to 9% - has occurred since 2000, the year the Labour government repealed the Employment Contracts Act, replacing it with the Employment Relations Act.
Most employer groups view the Employment Relations Act (ERA) as pro-union legislation.
The government's attempts to tweak the legislation further with an amendment to the Act in 2004, including a new statutory obligation of good faith bargaining, have not been sufficient to stem the exodus of private sector union members.
The public sector paints a different picture but the trend is still down.
In 1990, union density in the public sector was 97%. Of New Zealand's 317,500 public sector workers, 307,800 were union members.
By 1995, the number of public sector employees had dropped to 59%. Of the total public sector workforce of 265,400, only 156,100 belonged to unions.
In 2000, when the ERA was enacted, the percentage nudged upwards to 69%.
In 2005 public sector union density dropped to 61% (176,000 union members among the 288,600 available public sector workers), rising to 68% this year.
Union "density" defines the proportion of potential union members who actually belong to a union.
Within the public sector unions, Victoria University's statistics indicate the greatest number of union members are concentrated in the education (80,000 members) and health (70,600 members) sectors.
These two sectors combined have more union members than the entire private sector (126,000 people).
The study has been produced annually for the past 13 years. While Statistics New Zealand crunches the numbers in its Quarterly Employment Survey, the data are analysed and presented under the auspices of Victoria's Industrial Relations Centre and its director, Professor George Lafferty.
Industrial relations experts say the decline in union membership may be explained by the fact, unlike the United States - where employees can be fired ``at will'' - unions in New Zealand are no longer the vehicles for offering worker benefits such as job protection, paid holidays and sick leave.
These are now covered by the ECA and various specialist statutes, such as the Holidays Act meaning there is less incentive for workers to join unions.