MECA stands for Multi Employer Collective Agreement, more commonly referred to as a National or Regional contract. A MECA has more than one employer party or less commonly, more than one union party.
First a little industrial history: The Labour Relations Act (1987) preceded the Employment Contracts Act (1991), which in turn was replaced by our current Employment Relations Act (2000).
Prior to the Employment Contracts Act, MECAs (or their equivalent) were commonplace, and in the health sector were probably the primary form of employment agreement, or award, as they were then termed. Multi employer agreements in some form or another had been the predominant medium through which employment terms and conditions were negotiated for some 100 years, since the inception of New Zealand’s first industrial legislation, the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act in 1894.
The first thing to understand is that they are not new. The Employment Contracts Act was a deviation from the norm in this sense – this Act prevented MECAs and prohibited employees from striking in support of such a document.
Under the Employment Relations Act 2000, collective bargaining can occur only through a registered union such as NZMLWU. Under this Act a union can decide if they wish their collective agreement to cover more than one employer, hence the MECA.
A decision on whether a MECA will be negotiated, is first made by a ballot of union members. All members of a union who are covered by the intended coverage clause of the collective agreement have the opportunity to be involved in the ballot. Each group of employees employed by any one employer votes on whether their employer should be involved in the MECA. Once this is completed the Union will initiate bargaining with those employers for whom the employees have voted to include in the MECA.
What are the advantages?
The strength of negotiating together to improve conditions for all cannot be ignored. A MECA also provides the opportunity to provide better career planning, to take an occupational class approach to our employment and a national view on our training and conditions of employment. It is an opportunity to ensure that all members of a profession benefit and are protected.