The Landscape of Collective Bargaining in New Zealand is Changing…

Understanding your legal obligations as an employer is vital. One key area to understand as an employer is collective bargaining.

This is an evolving and sometimes confusing area of law, but we are here to make that easier.

In a recent case, The Athletes’ Cooperative Inc. v High Performance Sport NZ Ltd [2024], the Court shed light into the evolving obligations of employers in this context.

In this article, we breakdown this case and discuss how it may apply to you as an employer.



The Athletes Cooperative Inc (TAC) sought to bargain collectively with High Performance Sport NZ (HPSNZ) for better pay and working conditions over allegations of over-working and under-paying high-performance athletes.

The claim was brought forth by 60 elite cyclists and rowers and was spear-headed by two-time Olympic gold medallist Mahe Drysdale.


Key Issues

The key issue in this case was whether HPSNZ, despite not directly employing TAC members, was obligated to engage in collective bargaining.

TAC argued that the Employment Relations Act (the Act) promoted collective bargaining and that HPSNZ’s status as an employer extended beyond traditional employment relationships.

On the other hand, HPSNZ contended that an employment relationship was a prerequisite for bargaining initiation, and that because the athletes were not formally employed, they had no right to collectively bargain.



The Employment Relations Authority (ERA) concluded that HPSNZ was still obligated to negotiate with TAC and comply with the good-faith bargaining requirements found in the Act, despite the fact that they were not formal employers of the athletes.

The Court held “ that, for the purposes of initiating collective bargaining in accordance with s 40 of the Act, initiation does not require that a proposed employer party have employees within the proposed coverage as identified in a notice of initiation. Nor is it a requirement that the union seeking to initiate bargaining have members that are, at the time of initiation, employees of the proposed employer party.”

Simply put, even though the athletes were not formally employed by HPSNZ, they were still entitled to collectively bargain for fairer pay and better working conditions.


Key Takeaways

While the case primarily centres around the sports industry within New Zealand, it serves as a benchmark for the evolving landscape of employer-employee relations.

Employers may also have collective bargaining obligations that extend towards individuals who are not formally employed by them. Employers who hire these types of workers must ensure compliance with these obligations and be prepared to negotiate when required.

This case also represents progress in safeguarding workers’ rights and is a step forward for equal treatment for all workers under the law.

If you are engaging in collective bargaining and need any assistance, please get in touch with the Watermark Employment Law team. We are happy to assist you.