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The Forum > Article Comments > Letís not write off the unions just yet > Comments

Letís not write off the unions just yet : Comments

By Krystian Seibert, published 22/5/2007

Collective agreements are currently the most common method of setting the employment conditions of employees.

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From a human resources perspective, this article is just rubbish.

"One reason is that a preference by individual employees to negotiate collectively in the workplace is a rational response to the inherent imbalance of power that exists between employees and employers"

While this has certain truths about this, it places too much emphasis on the notion that high numbers of people participate in the bargaining process. My experience, across a number of industries and across private and public employers is that there are comparatively few who participate in bargaining.

This is the reason why collectivism abounds - it is because it allows people to gain the benefits of having someone else negotiate for them. In other words, they get the benefit without doing the work. People in this country love getting something for free!

Certified agreements, EBAs etc do not typically (tho not always) have wholesale change in them as they are renegotiated. The most common changes are changes to pay scales. Therefore, if the employee was "happy" before, then without wholesale change, there is little for them to be concerned about, so they happily go along.

"A major reason for this is that workplace relations laws make it particularly hard for unions to access workplaces and organise employees, and this has become even more difficult under WorkChoices."

This is wrong too. The article itself shows that union participation has been decreasing for years, and yet Workchoices has only just passed it's first birthday.

I would suggest that trade union participation is probably going to hover around recent levels (with a small spike coming from the scare campaign over the last 12 months). This is because generally employers are well behaved (as compared to the "bad old days") and while there will always be some recalcetrant employers, these are the minority.

Also, while the job market is booming as it is, there is very little reason for valuable employees to put up with poor employers. Perhaps if there is a significant downturn in the economy then this might change the union participation rates.
Posted by BN, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 11:22:34 AM
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As they currently are unions should be written off. The "them and us" philosophy belongs to the distant past. There are other ways of dealing with rogue employers, the law is one but the media is an even more powerful one.
Many "collective agreements" still have a way to run and at least some of the ALP/Union fear campaign is due to the fear that when those collective agreements run out the unions may no longer have the disproportionate influence on workers' rights and conditions that they now have. Naturally say that this will be a bad thing and that they are there to "protect" the workers. However just because they are telling us this does not make it true. They seem unable to understand that the world has changed. People are better informed. The law has changed. There are other avenues of redress. The media has changed. People can get instant publicity for their case.
Of course there will always be some people who are not able to communicate and negotiate but there would be in any system. This happens when the unions "negotiate" as well. Very few workers have much say in what unions negotiate.
We are already over-governed and over-regulated. We do not need unions making it even more difficult, nor do we need them "protecting workers' rights and conditions" to the detriment of others or society as a whole.
They can have one place at the negotiating table but they cannot have ten.
Posted by Communicat, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 3:26:03 PM
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The problem with defining employers from the "bad old days" or being "well behaved" is that working conditions are generally set by the rogues of industry.

Despite the best of intentions, an employer must be able to compete and if the opposition cuts wage costs by 10% then he/she is left with little option than to cut the same costs - albeit by slighty less in order to attract the better employees perhaps - but a pay cut would be more likely than a pay rise.

The unions blundered when they amalgamated into "super-unions" some years ago and pursued their own interests above those of their members.

My main concern is that these conditions have been introduced during boom times. What will happen when the economy inevitably turns down will be interesting indeed and much will depend on the militancy of the next generation of workers.
Posted by wobbles, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 3:27:33 PM
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This reminds me of the Monty Python skit "Besides schools, roads, aqueducts what have the Romans done for us?"

As an IT professional I didn't belong to a union. Well which union would represent you and I earned more than many other people did anyway.

When I started teaching my salary was dictated by the rank I was employed at and everyone in that rank got the same pay. I joined the union then. A more important reason for joining a union was that if a teacher ever gets into a dispute with a student or their parents over a real or presumed injustice the school and the education department walk away from the teacher.

There have been cases of Senior Counsel hounding a newly qualified teacher over teachers relationship with Senior Counsel's "precious" child. Not pleasant.
What about the teacher in the classroom when a chair leg end's up embedded in another pupil's face. Presumably the class was out of control and maybe the teacher was hopeless probably the school's discipline processes are atrocious. May be it was bad luck or maybe it was a systemic problem that had been brewing for weeks. The teacher is likely to be sued and if they are a union member the union will stand beside them.

If patients start suing nurses over the quality of their care then there will be an increase in union membership amongst nurses.

Union membership is stronger in industries where people can't control all the factors in their workplace. There are less people employed in heavy manufacturing so those unions have lost membership. No one ever died in an office workplace accident, death by shredding machine so the clerical unions have lost members.
Posted by billie, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 4:06:44 PM
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Trade Unions are the only bridge where the working class can negotiate for real wages and conditions with the owners of capital.
This bridge is a sacred ground, if corrupted there will be no winners.
When the Australian Trade Union movement gave birth to the illegitimate child of the ALP, the bridge begun to corrode.
During the Hawke administration Trade Unions enjoyed equal power with big business. The trio was drunk from power.
The present administration pruned back hard the TU, allied with the owners of capital they're ready to eliminate them.
In their present health TU are undesirable institutions however, a good government would be able to restore this bridge of decency and I hope that a future administration may be able to do so.
Posted by baba, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 5:34:14 PM
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Billie said...."If patients start suing nurses over the quality of their care then there will be an increase in union membership amongst nurses."

Billie and you're right to a degree re: patients suing nurses, although I don't know of one nurse who isn't a union member for that very reason. If the union didn't back nurses each and every time someone tried to sue them for the most trivial and ridiculous of things, there wouldn't be a nurse left in the game.
In fact, I've heard it said that if the usual suspects were able to sue nurses without the protection of union provided lawyers, each nurse sued would stand to lose everything they owned. If that protection was taken away, the country would see a swift exit of nurses from the profession. It simply wouldn't be worth the risk to remain in practice.
Aime.
Posted by Aime, Tuesday, 22 May 2007 6:53:35 PM
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