New Zealand Council of Trade Thesis

Excerpt from Thesis :

The regulatory settings in (say) 2000 would not have contemplated the government becoming the major shareholder in Air New Zealand or buying back the railway tracks; so if they had been bound into the GATT, the government would not have been able to step back in" (Conway, 2005, p. 15).

The CTU's official position on these issues is as follows:

1. The CTU does not oppose international trade;

2. The CTU does not oppose all negotiations on preferential trade arrangements;

3. The CTU prefers a multilateral approach;

4. The CTU recognises that free trade agreements are a reality;

5. The CTU therefore focuses on specific issues in free trade agreements;

6. The CTU does not want the 1984-1999 deregulation of the New Zealand economy to be the baseline for trade rules on access;

7. The CTU wants to see more focus on alternative trade models;

8. The CTU wants to see trade within a sustainable development framework.

According to Conway, the CTU acknowledges that international trade is important to New Zealand's economy and its workers and support rules-based trade. Notwithstanding this recognition, though, the CTU also cites the terms of a number of existing rules such as manner in which the World Trade Organization negotiates trade rules, the inequalities of bargaining power, the inclusion and exclusion of certain issues, and the uneven enforcement of rules (Conway, 2005). Moreover, it is the position of the CTU that New Zealand's international trade and investment policies should be fueled by and remain congruent with the country's economic and social development policies. In this regard, the CTU's secretary emphasizes that the CTU "is in favour of transparency and comprehensive cost-benefit analysis in relation to any proposed trade agreement. New Zealand's trade policy must protect the jobs that it seeks to create in its economic development strategy" (Conway, 2005, p. 15)

Other Organisations Involved in Similar Work

Although the CTU represents approximately 80% of the unions active in New Zealand today (About us, 2009), there are some other organisations operating in the country including the New Zealand Public Service Association (PSA), the Association of Staff in Tertiary Education (ASTE), Central Amalgamated Workers Union (CAWU) and the Corrections Association of New Zealand (CANZ) and several others (Labour unions in New Zealand, 2009; Eligible unions, 2009).

The CTU's Strongest Opponents

Not surprisingly, the CTU's strongest opponents remain the management of the companies whose workers are represented by the council, but the organization has also been criticized by others for its stance concerning the Employment Contracts Act of 1991. For instance, according to Figart (2004), "The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions was weakened by deunionization, and was criticized from the left for not having fought harder against the 1991 Employment Contracts Act (ECA) that did not even mention trade unions, subsuming them under bargaining agents and weakening their ability to recruit and represent members, by, for instance, calling a general strike" (p. 142). According to Webb et al.., there were also some controversy resulting from union membership in the national Labour Party until very recently: "While their members provide a high proportion of Labour Party members and activists, their unions have never affiliated to the party. As in other similar parties, union affiliation was a source of internal party conflict in the New Zealand Labour Party up to the 1990s" (p. 419).

CTU's Business Ethics

The extent to which the CTU's activities are deemed ethical or not likely relates to whether an individual's interests are being protected by their actions or harmed by them. The management of the affected companies, for instance, may consider the promotion of job rights and protections by the CTU as less than desirable, but it would appear that everything the organization seeks to accomplish is performed in an ethical fashion. For example, according to the CTU's Web site, "The goal of the New Zealand trade union movement is to improve the lives of working people and their families. The role of the CTU is to promote unionisation and collectivism through programmes of active campaigns" (What we stand for, 2009, p. 1). Moreover, it would be hard to argue with the stated objectives of the CTU to provide a collective voice for the individual worker in a democratic fashion. In this regard, the preamble to the CTU constitution states: "The NZCTU exists to unite democratic Trade Unions, to enable them to consult and co-operate with each other for the common good, and to help achieve the agreed aims and objects of the NZCTU by acting in unison and in accordance with democratic majority decisions" (quoted in What we stand for, 2009, p. 2).

Continuing Relevancy of the CTU

The passage of the Employment Contracts Act 1991 ("the Act") represented an important turning point in New Zealand's history and the role being played by the CTU today. For instance, the Act ended compulsory union membership in the private sector and prohibited any form of closed shop (Webb, Farrell & Holliday, 2002). According to Black's Law Dictionary (1991), a closed shop exists "where workers must be members of a union as a condition of their employment" (p. 255). In addition, the Act also reduced unions to the status of incorporated societies (Webb et al., 2002). In this regard, Webb, Farrell and Holliday (2002) note that, "Union membership as a percentage of the workforce more than halved by the end of 1997, when estimated union density stood at 19.2 per cent, and the number of unions was much lower than the early 1980s" (p. 419). Different industries experienced differing levels of membership loss in unions during this period. In this regard, Webb and his associates add that, "Decline was only a little lower than average in the traditional manual or blue-collar unions which form the historic core of Labour union affiliation. Public sector white-collar unions survived best" (Webb et al., p. 419). The net impact on the CTU has been a reduction in their membership rolls, but it is apparent that the organization remains relevant in an increasingly globalized marketplace where New Zealand workers may experience the loss of jobs or reductions in pay as a result of competitive from abroad.

With fewer members and voting delegates at party conferences, unions are now weaker in the party organization than ever before. It is unlikely that the percentage of union members affiliated to the party is much above 10 per cent of the much lower number of union members in the late 1990s. However, this lower level of affiliation of unions and their members to the party is probably more meaningful than in the past. Numbers are no longer swelled by involuntary members. Members of a union not wishing to be associated with the Labour Party are no longer counted as members for purposes of affiliation. In the late 1990s, the major part of Labour's union affiliate members came from two of the largest unions, the Service Workers (15,000 members), and the Engineering, Printing, and Manufacturing Union (40,000) (New Zealand Council of Trade Unions 1997). Despite fewer members, by the late 1990s unions had nevertheless re-established a key role in the Labour Party, most clearly indicated by an increase in the number of former union members and officials in Labour's parliamentary party (Webb et al., 2002, p. 419).

While New Zealand managed to avoid the same type of frequently violent labor-management confrontations that characterized the rise of unions in the United States in the early 20th century and the CTU emerged for some fundamentally different reasons, it is clear that the CTU still has a role to play in protecting the interests of its member workers in an increasingly globalized and competitive marketplace. The aforementioned example of the free trade agreements being negotiated with China and their impact on the country's textile workers is a good example of this type of ongoing need for a collective voice to represent individual workers in New Zealand. As the CTU's Web site emphasizes, "Unions exist for workers to support each other so that they don't have to face a problem, or negotiate improvements to their working conditions, on their own. When workers act together they have strength and safety in numbers and have a better chance of getting what they need at work and beyond" (Rights and protections, 2009, p. 2). The CTU also represents a valuable coordinating organization for union workers in New Zealand. For example, Foley (2004) notes that, "In 2002 the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions (NZCTU) gained government funds to develop and run a series of one-day programs about the international clothing and footwear industry" (p. 256). Workers in the clothing and footwear industry were provided training to help them better discern how their specific jobs meshed with the overall industry in international terms, as well as an enhanced sense of the clout that international corporate-brand companies such as Nike or the Gap exerted…

Sources Used in Document:


About us. (2009). The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions. [Online]. Available: http://union.

Black's law dictionary. (1991). St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co.

Conway, P. (2005). Putting fairness into free trade: Peter Conway provides a union perspective on international trade. New Zealand International Review, 30(6), 14-15.

Cite This Thesis:

"New Zealand Council Of Trade" (2009, September 14) Retrieved January 19, 2019, from

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"New Zealand Council Of Trade", 14 September 2009, Accessed.19 January. 2019,