Union membership

Learn about joining a union, how to set up or find a union, and going to union meetings.

A union is an organisation that supports employees in the workplace by advocating for them collectively (and individually with the consent of the employee).

If a union has negotiated a collective agreement with an employer, employees who choose to join that union can be covered by that collective agreement. They can also choose to be covered by the collective agreement and agree individual terms with their employer. 

If there’s no collective agreement in place, employees are covered by individual employment agreements.

If the work of a new employee is covered by the coverage clause of a collective agreement, the employer must give them a copy of the collective agreement and ensure their terms and conditions are consistent with the collective for the first 30 days, even if they’re not a union member. 

During the first 30 days, the new employee can choose to join the union and be covered by the collective agreement, or not join the union and be covered by an individual employment agreement.

Form for employees to indicate whether they intend to join a union [PDF, 258 KB]

Collective and individual agreements

Collective bargaining

Union membership is a choice

As an employee, you have the right to choose whether to become a union member. No one (employers, managers, colleagues, union members or union officials) can threaten, or directly or indirectly pressure you:

  • to join, not join, or leave a union
  • not to undertake union activities on behalf of other employees 
  • to leave your job because you are, or are not, a union member. 

A contract, agreement or other arrangement cannot:

  • require anyone to be or not to be a union member or a member of a particular union
  • give a person, just because they are or aren’t a union member or a member of a particular union, any preference:
    • for getting or keeping employment
    • relating to terms or conditions of employment, benefits, or opportunities for training, promotion, or transfer.

An employer cannot discriminate against an employee in their employment because they’re involved in union activities. Union activities include:

  • being an officer, management committee member, delegate, representative or official of a union
  • being a collective bargaining negotiator or representative
  • participating in a lawful strike
  • being involved in forming a union
  • submitting a personal grievance
  • being involved in making or supporting a claim for some benefit of an employment agreement
  • applying for or taking employment relations education leave.


Finding or setting up a union

There are unions for different kinds of workplaces and jobs, so if you’re thinking about joining or setting up a union you should find out about the ones that cover the type of work you do. Not every type of job is covered by a union.

CTU-affiliated unions – NZCTU Te Kauae Kaimahi(external link)

Searching for a registered union – New Zealand Companies Office(external link)

A registered union has to:

  • have at least 15 members if it was formed before 5 October 2023 under the Incorporated Societies Act 1908
  • have at least 10 members if it was formed on or after 5 October 2023 under the Incorporated Societies Act 2022
  • become an incorporated society
  • register as a union.

The Registrar of unions provides industry coverage data on all registered unions. 
Registered unions – Companies Office(external link)

The Companies Office website can help you with union registration. 
Registering as a union – Companies Office(external link)

Cost to join a union

You have to pay a fee to be a union member.

Each union sets its own fees, so membership fees can vary from one union to another. Usually, the fee for union membership is deducted from your pay and passed on to the relevant union by your employer.


Union meetings

Union members can go to at least 2 union meetings every calendar year.

If the meeting is during an employee’s normal working hours, the employer must pay them their ordinary pay for up to 2 hours while they’re attending the meeting.

Employers do not have to pay employees for any time over 2 hours unless agreed otherwise.

Notice of union meetings 

  • The union and employer should act in good faith to try to agree on a meeting time that works for them both, thinking about the employer’s operational requirements.
  • The union must give the employer at least 14 days' notice of the date and time of a union meeting.
  • The union must make arrangements with the employer to maintain the employer's business during union meetings (which may include enough union members not attending the meeting so the employer’s operations can continue).
  • After the meeting, the union must give the employer a list of members who attended and confirm how long the meeting was. 

The employees must be back at work as soon as practicable after the meeting. 

Employment relations education leave

Some union members may be entitled to paid leave to attend approved employment relations education courses.

Employment relations education leave

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