Freedom of Association and collective bargaining

Some ask - why is this included in a human rights policy? The answer is twofold.

Firstly, the broader right to associate is captured in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of human rights.

And secondly the 1998 ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at work specifically recognizes that right and “the effective recognition of the right to collective bargaining”.

Both of these instruments are texts that the UNGP expects businesses to respect, and in which our NZEE Human Rights Policy is grounded.

Our NZEE Human Rights policy reflects these rights by respecting your employees’ right to join, or not join, a trade union. This must be a right the employee exercises - a business can not interfere in that process, nor can it try and sanction or retaliate against anyone that does. The policy goes on to say that should your employee choose to become a member of a union, as their employer, you then commit to be constructive in the approach you take in engaging with them and their union.

Historically in New Zealand, since at least 1999, is that fewer employees are members of a union. That may change with new laws like the recent Fair Pay Agreements Act 2022. If your employees aren’t in a union, it is wise to establish a collective dialogue with your employees through their own election of spokesperson/s. These arrangements often already exist to address issues like health and safety, training, accommodation etc.

Whilst you may not want or in some cases aren’t able to “negotiate” on some conditions, as an employer you need to ensure the processes that you use are unbiased and based on objective criteria and have a defendable rationale.

Employees’ talk - inconsistency or rumors of favoritism can threaten the morale, cohesiveness, and productivity of your team.

This section of the NZEE Human Rights Policy will help guide you when such issues arise, by ensuring good communication and engagement, where employees feel they are being listened to and heard. This can go a long way to building a strong and sustainable workplace culture.


Tūhana Business and Human Rights is NZEE’s Human Rights Foundation Partner, to help members implement the UNGP framework in their operations and help identify and prioritize the risks they pose to people through their own business operations and supply chain and develop responses that look to prevent, mitigate, or remedy human rights issues.