Part 5 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 empowers workers to initiate collective bargaining with their employer and require the employer to actively and constructively engage in the process.
What is a collective agreement?
A collective agreement is an employment agreement between a group of union members at a workplace and their employer.
It can replace or sit alongside your individual employment agreement. It can address all, or some, aspects of a normal employment agreement, as long as it includes (as a minimum):
who it covers (see question below);
the rates or salaries for the relevant categories of workers covered by the agreement;
an explanation of how to resolve employment relationship problems;
provision for variation of the agreement; and
the date the agreement expires.
In addition to those minimum terms, unions can bargain for better terms in areas such as salaries, overtime payments, annual leave, sick leave, parental leave, working conditions, flexible work arrangements and any other term or condition that the parties agree to (as long as it is not inconsistent with legislation).
What does this mean for me?
If you want a better deal in your workplace, you can band together with your colleagues to bring your employer to the negotiating table to reach an agreement for better conditions. Bargaining as a group can increase your bargaining power, so you can achieve a better outcome than if you had negotiated individually.
How does it work?
Two or more employees, who are union members, can initiate collective bargaining with their employer at any time, provided there is not already an existing collective agreement.
A collective agreement is the result of a successful collective bargaining process. On behalf of workers, ALWU would approach a workplace and tell the employer it would like to initiate bargaining. An employer cannot refuse to bargain. A process is then agreed and the two sides work together to negotiate terms and conditions they would both accept. ALWU must disclose the names of its members at that workplace at the beginning of collective bargaining.
At the end of bargaining, it must be ratified by the members it will cover before it can be agreed to. The process is completely driven by, and delivered by workers at that workplace.
Who does it cover?
A collective agreement covers the specified groups of employees at the workplace or workplaces we are bargaining with. As an example, we could have an agreement for all administrative staff or all PQE2 Solicitors or we can have an agreement which covers all union members at the workplace.
A Multi-Employer Collective Agreement (MECA) is when a collective agreement applies across multiple workplaces. MECAs can be drafted so that other employers can join the MECA later.
How long will it take to bargain?
There is no set answer here. It can take anything from weeks to months. If bargaining has been going on for some time with no agreement, ALWU can request facilitation from MBIE’s mediation services and if there is still no resolution, can apply to the Employment Relations Authority to set the terms and conditions.
Can a non-ALWU member get the benefits of a collective agreement?
A non-ALWU member whose workplace has a collective agreement can join ALWU and then be covered by the collective agreement.
What’s the difference between a collective agreement and a Fair Pay Agreement?
A collective agreement is an agreement privately negotiated between ALWU and an employer or multiple employers. A fair pay agreement is negotiated with all relevant stakeholders in a sector, such as large law firms, and then legislated. This means that all workers, whether or not they are a union member, will be covered by the agreement and employers cannot opt out. A fair pay agreement usually sets certain minimum standards, such as a minimum salary, and employers can choose to be more generous than the agreed minimum.
Will members strike or do industrial action?
Strikes can only occur during collective bargaining, and are one of the tools in the industrial action toolbox. Strikes can be used as a tactic to put pressure on an employer to agree to the terms proposed in the bargaining. If ALWU’s bargaining representatives consider a strike would be helpful, the members at that workplace will vote (confidentially) on whether they want to strike. If there is a majority, there will be a strike, otherwise there won’t be one.
Striking is only one form of industrial action, and is one of the many tools available. Striking means that workers stop work, but there are alternative industrial action options, such as 'work-to-rule' where workers would work strictly to their agreed terms of employment. One example could be to withhold overtime hours by beginning work at 8:30am, taking a full hour lunch and leaving at 5:30pm on the dot.
"It is vital that students and young professionals work in places that treat them with respect and support them in the early years of their career. ALWU will ensure young lawyers' voices are heard."
Fletcher Boswell New Zealand Law Students' Association, 2019