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Work Stoppages: December 2008 quarter
Embargoed until 10:45am  –  22 April 2009
Technical notes

What work stoppage information is designed to measure

Work stoppage information is used as an indicator of the state of industrial relations in New Zealand. It focuses particularly on the economic impact of events such as strikes and lockouts, and does not cover forms of industrial unrest such as authorised stopwork meetings, strike notices, protest marches and public rallies. Demarcation and coverage disputes are included only where the participants are on strike or locked out.

Recording work stoppage statistics

Work stoppage statistics are compiled by Statistics New Zealand from the record of strike or lockout forms submitted by the Department of Labour under section 98 of the Employment Relations Act 2000. Stoppages are identified by scanning newspapers and by regular contact with employee and employer organisations. Once a dispute is identified in any of these ways, a form is sent to the employer for completion. Information gathered in this way is used to estimate the number of stoppages that are in progress at the end of each month.

All data relating to each work stoppage is recorded in the month in which it ends. If there are two or more separate periods of industrial action that relate to the same issue, then these are grouped together and counted as one stoppage. A single stoppage may therefore consist of one or more periods of industrial action held in different places or at different times, but which concern the same issue. However, since the beginning of 1999, Statistics NZ has adopted the International Labour Organization (ILO) recommendation that if the separate periods occur more than two months apart, they are classified as separate stoppages.

From the beginning of 2000, published statistics relate to complete strikes and complete lockouts that involve the equivalent of five or more person-days of work lost. Previously, published statistics related to 10 or more person-days of work lost. Partial strikes and partial lockouts are also included in the published statistics.

Work stoppages that are defined as unlawful under section 86 of the Employment Relations Act 2000 are treated in the same way as legal stoppages in these statistics.

Employment Relations Act

The Employment Relations Act was passed into law on 2 October 2000. This replaced the Employment Contracts Act passed on 15 May 1991.

Under the Employment Relations Act, strikes and lockouts are lawful:

  • if they relate to bargaining for a single-party or multi-party collective agreement
  • if any existing collective agreement (or collective employment contract under the Employment Contracts Act 1991) has expired
  • if the parties began bargaining at least 40 days previously
  • in some other very limited circumstances where part of a collective agreement is illegal and the Employment Court has made an order suspending part of the agreement.

The only employees who can lawfully strike or be locked out are those who will be bound by the collective agreement being bargained for.

The Employment Relations Act requires that unions give notice of any strike, and that employers give notice of any lockout if the strike or lockout involves an essential service and will affect the public interest. These are listed in Schedule 1 of the Employment Relations Act. The Employment Relations Service offers mediation services when employers, employees and unions disagree over employment issues. Its aim is that simple, clear information is provided to employers, employees and unions to reach agreement among themselves.

Coverage of work stoppage statistics

Work stoppage statistics are compiled by Statistics NZ from the record of 'strike or lockout forms' submitted by the Department of Labour. Strike or lockout forms received after the current quarter's publication that are deemed to pertain to the current quarter, may be included in a revision in the next quarterly publication.

Recording long-running work stoppage statistics

In the case of long-running stoppages, as with all stoppages, employers are regularly contacted to see if the stoppage is still causing the loss of person-days of work, and wages and salaries. If, after three months, the stoppage is no longer causing the loss of person-days of work, and wages and salaries, and has little or no impact on the operation of the organisation, the stoppage statistics will be concluded in that month and removed from the ongoing stoppages statistics. However, if the stoppage continues to impact on the operation of the organisation and results in the loss of person-days of work, and wages and salaries, the stoppage statistics will not be concluded.


A stoppage is made up of a series of events, all relating to the same issue. Stoppages have two characteristics: type and degree.

The type of action is either a strike (action initiated by an employee) or a lockout (action initiated by an employer). The statutory definition of strikes and lockouts is given in sections 81 and 82 of the Employment Relations Act.

The degree of action is a measure of the severity of the stoppage, which is either complete or partial. Complete strikes involve the complete withdrawal of labour for a period, and include unauthorised stopwork meetings, as well as failure to resume work immediately after authorised stopwork meetings. Partial strikes involve a reduction of normal output and include go-slows, refusals to work overtime, working to rules, and other means of passive resistance that are clearly manifested.

Complete lockouts involve an employer discontinuing the employment of any number of employees for a period. They are similar to complete strikes but are initiated by employers. Partial lockouts arise from the act of an employer that, although allowing employees to work normal hours of work, withdraws the provision of other contractual obligations such as the opportunity to work overtime or the payment of penal rates.


Work stoppages with more than one event are classified according to the following guidelines:

1. A complete stoppage will always be recorded over a partial stoppage.

Example: Employees at Firm A implement an overtime ban (a partial strike), but later completely withdraw their labour over the same issue. The stoppage is recorded as a complete strike.

2. In cases where the type of action changes but the degree of action does not change, the stoppage is recorded as having the type of whichever event came first.

Example: Employees at Firm A initially withdraw all labour before being locked out by their employer at a later date. In this case the stoppage is recorded as a complete strike.

3. In stoppages where both the type and degree of action change, the degree of action is always complete and the type of action is always that of any complete stoppage.

Example: Employees at Firm A implement an overtime ban (a partial strike) and later Firm A completely locks their employees out. This stoppage is recorded as a complete lockout.

Indicators of work stoppages

The indicators used to measure stoppage activity include the number of stoppages (measuring frequency), the duration of stoppages (measuring persistence), the number of employees involved (measuring extent), the number of person-days lost (measuring economic impact), and the estimated loss in wages and salaries (also measuring economic impact).

The number of employees involved includes not only those directly involved but also non-striking employees who are not locked out but are unable to perform normal work as a direct result of the stoppage. Employees involved in two or more periods of industrial action that make up only one stoppage are counted only once in the series.

The amount of time not worked by employees involved in strikes and lockouts is reported by employers in terms of the total number of hours lost. A standard eight-hour day is then used to calculate the number of person-days of work (previously termed working days) lost.

In calculating the estimated loss in wages and salaries, no account is taken of the fact that work not performed during the period of the stoppage may often be performed and paid for at a later date. However, account is taken of orders of the Employment Court to pay workers arrears for work that is done and not compensated for at the rate set down in their employment agreement. These repayments are deducted from losses of wages and salaries, where such information is available.

In the event that the loss in wages and salaries is not provided for a complete strike (or lockout), an estimated loss will be calculated using the total number of hours lost for the stoppage and an estimated wage rate based on data from the Quarterly Employment Survey.

Available statistics

Work stoppages are classified by industry, institutional sector (public or private), region, cause, method of dispute resolution (how the dispute was resolved), and method of achieving a return to work.

Subject to confidentiality rules, the full range of work stoppages indicators is available for the following ANZSIC 2006 categories:

  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing
  • Mining
  • Manufacturing
  • Electricity, gas and water services
  • Construction
  • Wholesale trade
  • Retail trade
  • Accommodation and food services
  • Transport, postal and warehousing
  • Information, media and telecommunications
  • Finance and insurance services
  • Rental, hiring and real estate
  • Professional, scientific and technical services
  • Administrative and support services
  • Public administration and safety
  • Education and training
  • Health care and social assistance
  • Arts and recreation services
  • Other services
  • All industries.

In addition to published data, tables to meet specific requirements, such as sector or detailed industry breakdowns, are available on request from Statistics NZ.

More information

For more information, follow the link from the Technical notes of this release on the Statistics NZ website.


Information obtained from Statistics NZ may be freely used, reproduced, or quoted unless otherwise specified. In all cases Statistics NZ must be acknowledged as the source.


While care has been used in processing, analysing and extracting information, Statistics NZ gives no warranty that the information supplied is free from error. Statistics NZ shall not be liable for any loss suffered through the use, directly or indirectly, of any information, product or service.


Timed statistical releases are delivered using postal and electronic services provided by third parties. Delivery of these releases may be delayed by circumstances outside the control of Statistics NZ. Statistics NZ accepts no responsibility for any such delays.

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