A Nudging ERA? Evaluating the Effects of a Legislative Default on Union Membership Decisions to Inform the Suitability of Nudge Theory in Employment Relations.

Treanor, Damian
Rasmussen, Erling
Lamm, Felicity
Haar, Jarrod
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Union decline has been the most significant issue in employment relations for the past 30 years and how to revitalise unionism has been a significant focus of academia and policymakers. In New Zealand, the political zeitgeist favours soft regulation, and eschews hard regulation, of employee union membership decisions but to date, these soft regulations have been ineffective in rejuvenating unionism in New Zealand.

A new approach that has the potential to be an effective soft regulatory tool is nudge theory. Nudges have a strong potential to promote union membership decisions whilst preserving employees’ freedom of association, but the potential of nudges in employment relations policy has not been explored. This thesis explores the potential of nudge theory as a method to promote unionism by exploring the impact, and effectiveness of a new regulation that is analogous to a nudge, the requirement under s62a of the Employment Relations Act 2000 for employers to pass-on employee information to the union by default. A mixed- method of both qualitative and quantitative data collection methods was used including survey data, semi-structured interviews and form completion data. A multi-industry case study methodology was used to ensure a breadth of data and limiting section-specific factors.

It was found that nudges are effective at promoting employees to speak to a union and had a small but positive impact on union membership outcomes. Most employees were comfortable with their information being passed on to the union, including those who intended to join but had not, and employees who did not intend to join but did not mind the prospect of being contacted. Negative outcomes were identified; these recommend nudges should be utilised with caution and that many employees were uncomfortable with the nudge.

This thesis explores the potential of nudges to promote union membership, demonstrates that it has strong potential to be an effective tool, and make recommendations on how nudges should be utilised to maximise positive outcome and minimise negative outcomes

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