Unionisation Bill – Nine Reasons Why Not

21 May 2018


The Government has introduced the Employment Relations Amendment Bill – in the process of making legislation – to bring back unionisation.  Here are nine reasons not to support this Bill:

1 - It will legislate to compel businesses to collectively bargain – horticulture has around 5,000 independent businesses spread throughout New Zealand – this is simply not practical. Currently, collective bargaining is voluntary, as required by the New Zealand-ratified International Labour Organization(ILO) conventions.

2 - It has a mechanism in it where new workers are automatically joined to a union unless they opt out. I guess the idea is that it is less likely that new workers will opt out of a union.

3 - Union officials be able to access work places without seeking the consent of the employer. This poses a health and safety risk, as all visitors need to report in when entering a horticulture premises. During peak periods this will disrupt harvest for example, and will cause production downtime, costs and quality issues. In addition, for some growers their office is in their home.

4 - If a union recruits two members from a workplace, the union can then compel a business to collectively bargain, even if the rest of the workers in that workplace are not union members. Non-union members are then covered by what is agreed unless, after 30 days, they elect to opt out. This forces workers into a union.

5 - A collective agreement with one of our 5,000 growers would, it seems from the Bill provisions, bind all 5,000 businesses. These businesses are independent of each other and are growing different crops. This seems unduly oppressive and unworkable. How can one of 5,000 businesses bind the other 4,999, and for a crop they may not be growing?

6 - Depending on the collective agreement, part-time and seasonal work arrangements could become less flexible, noting that flexible working arrangements are, more often than not, personal to each worker’s own circumstances.

7 - It could will reduce the relationship of mutual trust between employer and workers. In the vast majority of horticulture businesses a close and trusting relationship develops between the grower and their employees. The special relationship that exists between many of the RSE employers and employees is a good example of this, where support is given to their Pacific Island communities by their New Zealand employers and our local communities.

8 - Horticulture, in addition to employing permanent workers, employs a lot of seasonal workers to deal with peak times, like harvest - about 30,000 seasonal workers. These workers all start around the same day for the horticultural sectors they work in. The Bill compels employers to provide personal information about a new employee to a union. Given that for seasonal work thousands of workers are employed at the start of harvest, this will be administratively burdensome and unnecessary, as a fair percentage of these workers will work for only short periods of time, are holidaying pack backers, and RSE workers from the Pacific Islands. 

9 - The combined result is, if this Bill is made law, is it could reduce productivity and economic viability as it returns New Zealand’s employment law to a less flexible and non-trusting environment.

Horticulture New Zealand has asked that this Bill is not made law.

- Mike Chapman, CEO