The struggle for and against the Employment Contracts Act, 1987-1991
On May 3rd 1991 the legislative framework of industrial relations in New Zealand was revolutionised by the introduction of the Employment Contracts Act. This legislation was opposed by an overwhelming majority of workers. The depth of opposition to the Act was evident from the scale of the stop work meetings, industrial action and street protests which were the largest held in New Zealand since the 1981 Springbok Tour. Despite this, the proposed legislation was enacted virtually unchanged. This thesis describes and analyses the historical process through which the Employment Contracts Act came to be introduced. The historical formation of this legislation was shaped by a range of complex and interrelated social, economic and political forces including, inter alia, a prolonged economic crisis, a shift in the balance of power between employers and workers, the decline of Keynesianism and rise of neoclassicism as the prevailing economic orthodoxy, the influence of 'new realist' ideology within the union movement, and the centralized institutional character of the state in New Zealand. While these forces played a crucial role in shaping the overall historical context within which the struggle for and against the ECA took place, this thesis argues that the key conjunctural factor which enabled the Government to prevail against mass working class opposition was the failure of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions to call and lead a general strike in order to defeat the Act.
Advisor: Roper, Brian
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Political Science
Publisher: University of Otago
Research Type: Thesis