Part four of the Employment Relations Act specifies that a union is an organisation that operates at arms’ length from any employer and can represent members in relation to any matter involving their collective interests as employees. A delegate is a full member of the union elected to represent members in the workplace. It follows from this that the union has the right to elect its own representatives and that the employer must recognise them as the representative of members, provided they can demonstrate that they have authorisation from members. Employers often do not require evidence of formal authorisation but it is good practice for delegates representing an individual on any matter to complete the standard PSA Authorisation Form.
The Employment Relations Act also provides union representatives with the right to access workplaces. While this is mainly applicable to organisers, it also enables delegates to access other workplaces on the union’s behalf – usually workplaces under the same employer.
The State Services Commission guidance on the Code of Integrity and Conduct for the state sector makes it clear that those employed by the government are entitled to belong to unions and are free to engage in union activities and social campaigns and express views on behalf of the union. However, delegates and others who have access to information acquired in the course of their work must be careful not to use that information for the benefit of the PSA.
These legal rights are important but most of the rights delegates can exercise will come from agreements negotiated with the employer, which should ensure there is no ambiguity over what rights PSA delegates have. These should be included in the collective agreement but may be included in other agreements, such as partnership agreements between the PSA and the employer.
The PSA seeks to negotiate union rights, and facilities provisions that recognise the delegate role and enables them to fulfil their role. Such an agreement is central to the PSA gaining influence in the workplace and should meet the public sector standard.