Industrial Relations - ‘All Workers Should Belong to a Trade Union!’

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According to Martin (1980) Australian Union representation is about “protection and improvement of … pay and working conditions.” With regard to this, the question must be asked, why is it that only “one in five employees (19% or 1.7 million people) were trade union members” according to figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) in April 2008. Why would any Australian worker not want to be afforded the right to representation and support networks offered by the many and varied trade unions throughout Australia? This essay will first focus on what triggers a worker to join a trade union. It will then look at the current work climate and the employment relationship, considering the modern concern for generation Y’s lack of loyalty. In addition, the essay will argue that workers must belong to a trade union to ensure that vulnerable employees are not taken advantage of. The essay will then critically analyse the impact that the Federal Tribunal has on trade unionism, considering its recently reduced arbitral powers. And finally, the paper will critically consider the social, legal and political factors that have seen trade union membership freefall over the past two decades.

Before boldly asserting that ‘all workers should belong to a trade union,’ it is imperative that one first considers some of the more prominent reasons supporting the notion of joining a union. Studies conducted by both Guest and Dewe (1988) and Farber and Saks (1980) have found that dissatisfaction with the supervisory relationship, job content and involvement in work are the most significant triggers. A further consideration that employees make is the idea of a union providing one with the ability to remedy unsatisfactory working conditions. This is an exceptionally important factor in the decision as resolving wage concerns or occupational health and safety (OH+S) individually can be an extremely daunting challenge for the average Australian worker. And finally, there are those employees who join a union due to an indoctrinated commitment to the ideological values that that union represents. According to Klandermans (1986), these people have “ideal-collective motives.” However, unfortunately such practises cannot be taught, they are rather inherent in a person’s constitutional makeup.

In addition to the aforementioned factors, the modern employment relationship and work climate must surely too encourage trade union involvement. A significant study conducted by Peetz (1997, p.27) has highlighted the increasing trend in employee dissatisfaction with management practices. The concern here is that while unionism continues to deteriorate, managerial prerogative strengthens and ultimately the relationship suffers. To argue that All workers should belong to a trade union may be optimistic, however, “in the context of work intensification (higher stress, greater work pace), falling job security, narrowing career opportunities and declining co-operation between management and employees,” (Bray et al, 2008) trade union representation must be encouraged.

Furthermore, in recent years it has become apparent that there is a major concern with the modern worker. Generation Y employees have been accused of being too self-absorbed and lacking loyalty, “the Gen Yers are feared for their lack of loyalty to employers” (http://www.riskandinsurance.com ). Perhaps the lack of trade union membership and involvement may be inextricably intertwined with this ever-growing concern. It has become apparent that young people are more inclined to change jobs than speak out and bargain with management over improved conditions. It may just be that the notion of individual bargaining has severely impeded the ‘Generation Yer’s’ ability to remain loyal. And one must contend that greater union representation and even collective bargaining would surely rectify this situation. If the union commonly represented the Generation Y employee, and individual...
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