News Item

September 2019

"Default" union enrolment widely supported - Sept LawTalk column by Law Foundation Director Lynda Hagen

A Law Foundation-backed research project has found that nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders support automatic trade union enrolment for new job starters, provided they also have the right to opt out afterwards.

What’s more, support for a “union default” policy extends across society, regardless of political, occupational, income and other differences. The idea is backed by managers, employers, workers and the unemployed alike. Supporters of most of the main political parties favour it, including Act – only National voters are marginally against, with just under half liking the idea.  

Study co-author Mark Harcourt, Professor at Waikato University School of Management, says the survey results surprised him.

The nationwide survey in May of 1471 randomly-chosen people found that 60 per cent of respondents favoured a union default policy. This complements the findings from in-depth interviews with 42 employment law experts, 70 per cent of whom liked the idea.

Harcourt wanted to test the union default idea as a way of reversing declining union membership and the accompanying growth in income inequality over the past three decades.

The employment law experts convinced him that a union default had to be accompanied by an opt-out right, available immediately. This would overcome the argument that a union default would restore “closed shop” unionism.

“None of the experts we spoke to want a return to compulsory union membership – they all favour choice,” he says. “Neither National nor Labour want to return to compulsory unionism, and the International Labour Organisation opposes it. So opt-out must be available to keep unions accountable, offering services that members want.”

Harcourt co-wrote the study with Waikato Law Professor Margaret Wilson, Victoria law student Nisha Novell, and affiliate researcher Dr Gregor Gall of Glasgow University.

Full LawTalk article by Law Foundation Director Lynda Hagen Aug 30, 2019
Law Fuel article July 9, 2019

The Law Foundation is providing up to $30,000 in support of this research project

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