New Zealand’s first labour law system, the conciliation and arbitration system was a stable and balanced model that served New Zealand well for most of the twentieth century. However from the mid-1960s this system slowly collapsed under the weight of political and economic pressures. In 1991, after a two decades of attempted reform, a new era in labour law was heralded by the Employment Contracts Act 1991. This Act, strongly influenced by neo-liberal ideology, was unashamedly anti-union and anti-pluralist. It was intended to deunionise workplaces and replace the arbitration system’s pluralist ethos with the individualised and subordinate employment relationship common law. A decade later these reforms were in turn modified by the Employment Relations Act 2000 which attempted a return to a more pluralist legal model centred on a statutory duty of good faith applicable to both individual and collective employment relationships. A little more than a decade later,
including one term of National government, there appears to be at least some consensus on the broad structure of labour law and therefore a new period of labour law stability may have developed.
The first part of this book traces the evolution of New Zealand labour law from colonisation to the present day and in particular the turbulent period between 1970 and 2000 when our contemporary system of labour law developed. In the second part it describes that system of law and asks whether a new consensus has developed or whether there is merely a lull before a new storm.