It's been decades since unions were considered a mainstream part of a Kiwi worker's life, but as the cost of living crisis continues to bite, are they due for a comeback?
Unions are slipping back into the mainstream overseas, with workers at Apple, Amazon and Starbucks all recently making headlines amid their fights for union recognition, while the United Kingdom has seen strikes in multiple sectors over fairer wages and better working conditions.
Mark Harcourt, a Professor of Human Resource Management at Waikato University, tells the Front Page podcast there's been a resurgence in union interest in the last decade around the world.
"It's been gradual, but recent events like the pandemic and high inflation have all ignited a quest for union representation among some workers who've not had it," says Harcourt.
"There's definitely been some discontent rising for some time that's been revealed in several surveys that have suggested people are more open to unionism and union representation than they maybe were 20 years ago."
Harcourt says that the union-killing event in New Zealand history was the 1991 Employment Contracts Act, which the National government in power passed at the time.
"That legislation withdrew all support for union representation ... Research on this has shown that the dramatic fall in union representation from something like 50 per cent in the early 90s to around 20 per cent in the early 2000s was caused by a change in legislation, not a change in people's preferences or a change to their industries or occupations."
The Employment Relations Act did arrest that decline, but it did little to restore unions to the prominence they once had.
Figures from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment show union membership sitting at around 14 per cent of the working population between 2017 and 2021.
A weakening of the collective bargaining power among workers has a significant impact on pay, says Harcourt.
"There's been a lot of research on this and it spans many different countries, but basically there is a union wage premium," the professor says.
"It varies by country, but it can be substantial. It can be as much as 15 to 20 per cent on what equivalent non-union workers might be earning. In New Zealand, that's probably lower, but the effect of unions on wages is substantial."
Harcourt says that strong unions even affect non-union firms in the same market because they need to pay more to compete and stave off unionisation in their own organisations. And the impact of wage increases will often be greatest among those who earn the least in society.
Given this clear impact on wages, businesses are often quite resistant to union membership due to concerns about how it could affect productivity and the broader economy.
So what does the research say?
"The research doesn't 100 per cent endorse the employer point of view or the union perspective on this," says Harcourt.
"Unions do have an effect, but it seems to depend upon the relationship they have with the employers. Sometimes it's positive, sometimes it's negative.
The sense of inequity across society is feeding into a growing frustration among New Zealand workers who are struggling to make ends meet - and this could lead to strike action similar to that seen abroad.
"Over the last 15 to 20 years, there has been growing disquiet," says Harcourt, explaining that the growing divide between the rich and poor has made many New Zealanders more conscious of the social inequities across the country.
"Inequality in New Zealand has increased massively. It's gone from a Swedish-style level of inequality to levels you'd expect to see in a country like Canada. That wasn't expected and a lot of people have suffered in that process."
The question now is whether that disquiet is set to turn into the roar of angry workers in the coming months and years.
The Front Page is a daily news podcast from the New Zealand Herald, available to listen to every weekday from 5am.