Do Trade Unions Have a Future in Australia

Topics: Trade union, Labour relations, Employment Pages: 7 (2501 words) Published: September 8, 2013
Do you believe that trade unions have a strong future in Australian industrial relations? If so, why? Trade unions have been described as organisations of workers set up to improve the status, pay and conditions of employment of their members and associations of workers who by means of collective bargaining endeavor to improve their working conditions, economic and social position (Salamon, 1992). Trade unions face many implications, declining union density, rapid expansion into casual labor market and decline of the manufacturing industry as a job provider.Trade unions have played a major role in the development of Australia and will continue to do so, however its critical that they adopt a form of union renewal to apply to the changing environment of Australia, as these changes can influence and affect the conditions for renewal and also can affect the way unions organize and regroup.

Hymen (2002) suggest that in last three decades have seen a radical transformation of global capitalism with the liberalisation of currency markets; the acceleration of transactions through advances in information and telecommunications technologies; and the breakdown of the American-dominated post-war system of international monetary stabilisation. Deprived of much of their previous room for shaping macroeconomic policy, governments too have typically embraced policies of 'deregulation' to increase flexibility in labor markets. While the extent of such challenges varies substantially cross- nationally, universally the foundations of the post-war industrial relations compromise are significantly weakened, and hence the status of unions as its beneficiaries (Hymen, 2002) According to a study by Drago and Wooden (1991) trade union organization in Australia continues to reflect occupational, rather than industry or enterprise, distinctions. Consequently, the membership of the average union is spread over a large number of workplaces, reducing opportunities for contact between employees and union officials and increasing the likelihood of agency problems. Further, occupational unionism gives rise to multiple unions in the workplace, which tends to fragment union voice (Drago & Wodden, 1991). Beginning with amendments to the Industrial Relations Act 1993 and continued under the 1996 Workplace Relations Act and 2006 Workplace Relations (Amendment) Act, state support for unions has been effectively withdrawn and the Australian welfare state guided by New Protection is all but dead in the wake of Welfare to Work legislation. “What may be termed the internal challenges to trade unionism stem from transformations in the traditional membership base. The male, manual industrial worker whose nine-to-five job was central to his existence is a declining species. The world of work now manifestly has two genders, is occupationally and often ethnically diverse, and involves highly differentiated patterns of activity over the day, the week and the lifetime” (Hymen, 2002). To the extent that trade unions still represent primarily their old core constituencies, they suffer declining membership and lose effectiveness

In the context of membership decline and economic restructuring, the uncertainty about prevailing patterns of representation and organization, and changing patterns of work and employment, many unions began to review way they organized and operated (Fairbrother, Williams, Barton, Gibellieri & Tropeoli, 2007). As Table 1 indicates (cited in, Patmore, 1992) there are two series of statistics produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) for union density. Series 1 is based on estimates from trade-union officials and is considered the least accurate of the two series (Patmore, 1992, p. 226) Series 2 is based on a survey of employees.

According to Series 1 there has been only a small decline in Australian union density since 1982. The more accurate Series 2 presents a more pessimistic picture, “with a continued decline in the...
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