Story: Employer and business organisations
Employer and business organisations were formed in New Zealand from the mid-19th century. By the early 20th century there were many organisations; by the early 2000s there was a multitude. Whether based on occupation, sector, area or interest, there was an employer and business group for virtually everyone.
Full story by Megan Cook
Main image: The Business Roundtable's Sir Ronald Trotter lecture, 2009
The Short Story
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Employer and business organisations were set up in New Zealand from the 19th century. They provide services, help and advice to their members, and lobby government on their members’ behalf.
Chambers of commerce
From the 1850s chambers of commerce provided services and a meeting place for businesses in a region. They objected to government restrictions on business, especially in the 1930s, when the 40-hour work week came in and union membership was made compulsory.
The national chamber had a strong influence on the government in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Early New Zealand manufacturers struggled to compete with imported goods. They formed local groups, and in 1927 set up the Manufacturers’ Federation. In the 1930s the government introduced tariffs and licensing for imports, which protected local manufacturers.
In the 1980s and 1990s these protections were removed. It was a tough time, but manufacturers recovered, and the federation focused on the development of manufacturing and exports.
After workers began setting up unions and going on strike, employers also formed groups. In 1902 they set up the national Employers’ Federation. From 1894 employers had to bargain with registered unions. If they could not agree, an arbitration court made the decision. Employers joined groups in order to have representation at the court.
In 1991 union membership was made voluntary, and employers could negotiate individual employment contracts. The federation and its member organisations had to offer new services.
In 2001 the Manufacturers’ Federation and Employers’ Federation merged and became Business New Zealand.
The Business Roundtable began in 1976 with meetings of businesspeople who opposed the government’s controls over wages and the trade union system. The Roundtable favoured less government, lower taxes and privatisation. It strongly influenced the government in the 1980s and 1990s.
Sector and trade groups
Sector and trade organisations represent the interests of industries or sectors, such as fishing, retail, alcohol sales, electricity, forestry or building.
Business groups and the environment
From the 1990s business groups were set up to deal with climate change and environmental problems. However, some other organisations argued that New Zealand should not take a strong position on climate change as this would harm business.