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Unions - Strikes and lockouts

Published 19 Sep 2022

When it comes to collective agreements and bargaining, that is agreements where Unions are involved, strikes and lockouts are permitted and deemed lawful in certain circumstances.

As we've seen at the current Purex factory dispute in Kawerau for the last 6 weeks where the both striking union staff and retaliating employer lockouts have seen staff going with no pay for the period.

Strikes and lockouts are a valid legal weapon in instances of deadlock during collective bargaining. Strikes are where employees refuse to work, lockouts are where employers refuse to let the employees work. In both cases generally employees don't get paid, and no formal legal action or even disadvantage can be taken for this industrial action alone provided the strike or lockout have been undertaken according to the 'rules'.

In both cases these actions are considered to be the most serious form of industrial action that can be taken and pretty much always lead to the further erosion of the employment relationship between the parties.

The law is very strict, verbose and protracted around the rules for what is a legitimate strike or lockout some of which include;

  • The action must relate to either collective bargaining or a Health & Safety issue.
  • Notice and adherence of the impending action must be served to the other party and MBIE
  • Lockouts must state exactly (name) which staff are to be locked out. Strikes don't if it's all.
  • Negotiations must have been in place for at least 40 days.
  • A union must have undertaken a 'secret ballot' of its members to decide that strike action is the preferred way forwards by the majority.

As demonstrated with the current Purex strike, following 40 days of frustrated negotiations came 6 weeks of strikes and lockout. The costs alone to the company and staff alike would have been crippling, the company eventually ceding to a 5% increase and a $4000 lump sum in 2022, a 4.5% increase and a $3000 lump sum in 2023 and another 4% increase in 2024.

With the advent of Government's Fair Pay Agreements (FPA) on the horizon it is sadly likely to see strikes and lockouts becoming more commonplace in the future.