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More NZers signing up to become union members

More New Zealanders signing up to become union members

The number of New Zealanders joining unions continues to rise with membership increasing for the fourth year in a row according to a survey by Victoria University's Industrial Relations Centre.

The Centre's annual survey of trade union membership found that about 342,000 New Zealand workers now belong to unions, a rise of 13 percent (or 39,000 people) over the four years to December 2003, ahead of a labour force growth of 11 percent for the same period. The increase in membership for the year ending December 2003 was two percent.

The number of unions active in New Zealand has more than doubled since the Employment Relations Act (ERA) was passed in the year 2000, with more than 180 unions registered.

The Centre has calculated that 21.7 percent of wage and salary earners are union members.

Centre Director Professor George Lafferty says although membership growth continues to be strong in the public sector, private sector membership also improved in 2003.

“Whilst we have noticed a trend towards concentration of bargaining and membership in the public sector, it is encouraging to see some growth in private sector unionism. About a third of the increase in 2003 was from the private sector which compares with a decline the year before," he says.

"However the ERA has not turned back the anti-union tide of the Employment Contracts Act, and large sections of the workforce, particularly in the private sector, remain severely disadvantaged – as a recent Human Rights Commission report indicated”.

"The ERA has not assisted unions to extend collective bargaining, despite that being one of the key objectives of the legislation. Specifically unions have not been able to successfully bargain on an industry basis and this remains a restraint on union growth and on unions’ ability to improve the lot of disadvantaged workers."

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