NGOs and trade unions – natural allies in making NGOs great places to work

Brenda photoBrenda Pilott, National Manager
Social Service Providers Aotearoa

I’ve just joined Social Service Providers Aotearoa as its national manager, after a decade working for the PSA, NZ’s largest union which includes thousands of community sector workers amongst its membership.  So I came to the job with some views about NGOs as employers and how they treat their staff.  I also brought with me a strong view that unions and NGOs are natural allies.

Upfront, I’d have to acknowledge it’s a pretty mixed picture currently.  Some NGOs are fantastic employers; others, not so much.  Some work constructively with the unions representing their staff and there are great examples of joint initiatives.  But some are quite resistant to unions and discourage membership in ways subtle and not so subtle.  I wonder if those organisations have a view of unions that is rooted in the past.

What they may not understand, or may not have seen, is that the unions have a strong interest in supporting NGOs to have adequate and sustainable funding and can be firm allies in funding campaigns.  At times, unions can speak out when NGOs may feel they shouldn’t rock the boat, especially with funders.  Most unions have a broader social justice agenda on issues such as human rights, which are strongly aligned with most NGO values.

Unions and NGOs are natural allies.

There is a path we could take as a sector to provide great workplaces.

There is great potential for the NGO sector and the unions to work together to create a different style of employment relations that embraces shared values, develops non-adversarial ways of managing things such as collective bargaining, and where both parties have a shared commitment to great service outcomes.  Union organisers are knowledgeable about workplace law and, generally speaking, will seek solutions that work for everyone.

We might negotiate pay from opposite sides of the table, and the NGO sector is not going to be the market leader in pay any time soon – but together with our union allies, we can ensure the people who work in it are well treated, have good careers, and enjoy decent working lives.

This is a personal view and does not necessarily represent the views of SSPA or its members

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

ComVoices  actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

Click here for our website:  http://comvoices.org.nz/