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Not a typical union but a union all the same : opinion leaders, employers, dissatisfaction and the formation of New Unions under the Employment Relations Act 2000 : a thesis presented in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Business Studies in Human Resource Management
This research examined the rapid formation and proliferation, in New Zealand, of new predominantly workplace-based unions under the Employment Relations Act 2000 (ERA). More specifically, it examined the motivations and interests of the individuals responsible for forming New Unions, and the process by which the decision to form a New Union was made. To date, scholars have placed little emphasis on these issues and have given greater weight to describing New Unions, and on comparing their structure, activities and character against that of older, more established unions. When compared, the typical New Union has not fared well its small size, limited finances, and limited interests outside of enterprise based bargaining is argued to be ineffective in comparison to the size, finances and activities of larger, more established unions. The status of New Unions as 'genuine' union organisations has also been questioned, particularly as many are regarded as, or more accurately implied to be, incapable of operating at arm's length from employers. In simple terms' many New Unions are not seen as genuine unions as their formation is argued to be an employer not an employee driven phenomenon. However, evidence of actual employer involvement in New Union formation and. more importantly, their activities post-formation is relatively sparse, as are explanations for why employers would consider such involvement necessary. If, as argued, the goal of employers' is to undermine the existing union movement, then the current legislative climate already allows them to do so without recourse to a New Zealand version of the company union phenomenon seen elsewhere. The current climate characterized by employers' to passing on of union negotiated terms and conditions, union recruitment and retention difficulties, and the availability of decollectivist strategies that have been successful without the formation of a tame in-house unions. Critically, in focusing on how New Unions operate, the role of employers, and comparisons with established unions', scholars have overlooked the motivations and interests of New Union members. Some scholars have linked workers' dissatisfaction with, and possible opposition to, the wider union movement to New Union formation. But beyond this, no direct or definitive examination has been provided of why workers chose to form, and subsequently join, organisations that are, according to scholars, ineffective and unable to operate independently. By interviewing New Unions, their employers, and older, more established unions, this study addressed these and other questions, and re-examined New Union formation. The study questioned in particular why those unions formed, the motivations and interests of the workers who formed them, and challenged suggestions that they are not genuine unions. A number of significant findings emerged from the research process. New Union formation was found to be an employee not an employer driven phenomenon, and little evidence was found of actual employer involvement in their formation. Workers' negative personal and shared experiences with the behaviour of older unions and their members and officials were significant to New Union formation. Also significant were the actions and attitudes of key opinion leaders who provided the expertise and knowledge needed to form and operate New Unions, but more importantly acted as a source of workers shared experiences with other unions. Overall, the findings of this study make an important contribution to existing research by re-defining the significance of existing findings. But more importantly, they challenge existing arguments that New Unions are not genuine union organisations that New Union members are opposed to traditional concepts of unionism, and question in particular the relevance of existing empirical definitions and descriptions of the genuine union.