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Hints on creating union rules

This information is designed to assist groups of employees to create a simple set of union rules. It points out requirements imposed by both the ISA and the ERA, however, is not legal advice. If you are unsure of the requirements for rules we recommend you seek independent legal advice.

Union rules must be:

  • "not unreasonable"
  • "democratic"
  • "not unfairly discriminatory or unfairly prejudicial"
  • "not contrary to law".
  • contain a provision relating to the process for holding a secret ballot for the purposes of the ERA


What specific union rules must and may include


A union must have a name and the name must end with the word "Incorporated" (ISA). The rules must comply with section 6 of the ISA (and the additional requirements of the ERA).



A union's "objects" define the union's aims and purposes. A union must have a set of objects (ISA). Those objects:

  • should state all of the objectives that the union may wish to pursue now or in the future. This is because a union cannot legally undertake activities that fall outside its objects
  • must include an object or a combination of objects to promote members' collective employment interests (ERA)
  • may include objects related to members non employment interests e.g. providing scholarships for the education of member's children, running holiday homes, securing discount arrangements with retailers, etc


A union’s powers define the actions a union can take to administer itself. Rules:

  • must clearly define what (if any) powers the union has to borrow money (ISA)
  • need to set out normal administrative and any other powers that the union may need to operate effectively. This is because a union can only do things that its rules authorise it to do.



The membership rule defines who may join the union. A union might define its membership in one or more of the following ways:

  • employees in a particular occupation e.g. plumbers or cleaners
  • employees in particular industries or sectors e.g. the manufacturing, retail, or construction industries or the government sector
  • employees in a particular enterprise or workplace e.g. employees of Barry's Catering Ltd
  • a combination of these approaches
  • more generally.



Unions may have overlapping membership coverage. There is nothing in the ERA to prevent an employee joining more than one union.

Unions need to note that there are close links between membership rules and union access rights, which means there may be room for confusion if membership rules are unclear.

Unions also need to note that union members are automatically bound by collective agreements negotiated by the union. Some employees may not want the union to represent them for the purposes of collective bargaining. If so, unions should have another category (avoiding the word "member") of person who can join the union for purposes other than collective bargaining.


The rules:

  • should define clearly who its membership is open to
  • must set out how people can join the union (ISA)
  • must set out how people cease to be members of the union (ISA) i.e. how members can resign, how (and in what circumstances) they can be expelled, etc.



Rules generally specify some means of fixing and collecting union fees.



The rules need to set out how the union's decision making structures.



Rules must cover how meetings are summoned, how members (or their delegates) can participate in the meetings, how the meetings are conducted (chair, quorum, etc), and how voting occurs (ISA). The rules must also contain a provision relating to the process for holding a secret ballot for the purposes of the ERA.


Rule changes

The rules must specify how the rules may be altered, added to, or rescinded (ISA). This is generally done by a decision of the union's peak decision making body (e.g. the Annual General Meeting (AGM) or a Special General Meeting (SGM)).



The rules:

  • must specify how union "officers" are elected (ISA)
  • typically state who the union's officers are, their roles, who may seek election to officer positions (often restricted to members), and when and how an officer can be removed from office.


The traditional union "secretary" may be an elected "officer" but is often an employee who is appointed by the executive committee.



The rules must include rules on the control and investment of funds (ISA). The rules must set out:

  • who will receive monies, write receipts, open and operate bank accounts, pay bills, and write cheques
  • what investments are permitted.


Common seal

The common seal is a stamp used on documents issued in the society's name to show they are valid. The rules must set out who controls and uses the seal and what the seal is used for (ISA).



The rules must state what will happen to any property of the union if the union is wound up or liquidated (ISA).


Last updated 12 September 2013


Contact the Registrar of Unions

New Zealand Companies Office
Private Bag 92061
Victoria Street West
Auckland 1141

Freephone | 0800 20 90 20



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