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FAQ - About unions

Aren't unions for people who just can't look after themselves?

Unions are for people who want to work together to sort out their workplace and conditions of work. While union members feel able to 'look after themselves', they enjoy the benefits and gains of working together. There's plenty of independent research and analysis that shows a unionised workforce can achieve much more than non-union jobs. For example, collective employment agreements generally provide for much higher wages and conditions than individual agreements.

Aren't unions just about making trouble for employers?

Unions are organisations of workers who work together to get a fair deal. On a job it is the employees who are the union, so to say they are about 'making trouble' does not make a lot of sense. Most workers want to get on with their boss and have a happy relationship.

Aren't unions too political?

It depends on what you mean by 'political'. In its broadest sense, almost anything a union does is political. When a group of workers say they want to work collectively to achieve better pay and conditions - that is being political because they are saying they want to have influence over what happens to them at work.

Can anyone else help me besides a union if I face problems at work?

You can choose to seek outside advice or help to deal with workplace problems. This may include engaging your lawyer or dealing with the Employment Relations Service of the Department of Labour.

What do unions do?

Unions are about workers coming together to work collectively to deal with their issues at work - including bargaining collective employment agreements and problem solving, and working on issues of concern to workers acoross industry and in society in general.

Don't unions go on strike all the time?

No. This is a bit of a myth - particularly when you look at the statistics. Strikes are rare, it's just they tend to get a lot of publicity in the media when they happen.

Why do unions and employers always have industrial trouble?

They don't always have trouble. In fact, in most cases employers and unions get along well with each other - working in good faith.

What can the union do for me?

The union is there to help you get a fair deal at work - as well as making sure you have a voice that can be heard beyond your workplace. As a union member it is likely you'll be involved in the process of winning a collective agreement for you and your workmates - as well as belonging to an organisation that can assist you to deal with workplace problems and issues.

How do unions contribute to our economy and society?

Remember that a union is a group of workers who decide they want to work collectively to address their issues. In our economy and society it is often difficult to have a voice as an individual - you simply get drowned out. Unions advance and promote the interests of their members - so they are very influential in setting pay rates and working conditions in our economy - as well as advocating for action key issues like skills and industry training. In the political process, unions are effective in lobbying and working for policies that members want and are good for working people.

What is the cultural and ethnic make-up of unions?

Unions in New Zealand are very diverse - reflecting the many cultures and ethnicities that can be found in workplaces up and down the country.

What is a union delegate?

A union delegate is a union's key representative in the workplace. They play the role of a workplace organiser - building their union in the workplace and representing members. They will often play a key part in issues like collective bargaining and workplace problem solving. Unions work hard to support and train their delegates in recognition of their very important role.

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