New employee representation: legal developments and New Zealand unions
Legislative protections supporting New Zealand's compulsory arbitration system made unions a vital part of industrial relations from 1894 to 1991. Following a dramatic shift to a more deregulated labour market, the union movement suffered a sharp decline in influence and membership during the 1990s. In October 2000 the Labour-Alliance Coalition that formed government in 1999 introduced its Employment Relations Act that includes new protections for registered trade unions. The early impact of the legislation has been to promote the registration of a plethora of new unions. However, the new unions formed since the introduction of the Act represent very few workers and have narrow interests. Although they exist formally as unions, these organisations are more accurately alternative forms of employee representation that exist to facilitate enterprise bargaining and, in some instances, to allow employers to frustrate the activities of larger, established unions.