Are Unions still Relevant Anymore?

Joni & Reb invited me to submit a commentary about unionism, I’ve decided to attempt to wind back my usual level of rabidity, to something (perhaps) a little more rational.

Union membership (density) currently stands at about 15% of the private sector workforce. About 20% of the total workforce.

At its peak during the post war period, union membership was near two thirds of the full time male workforce, about 60% of the total workforce. It bumped up, though generally down, from the 50’s to the 80’s.

The steady, unrelenting decline started about 25 years ago, during the Hawke/Keating period. At that time unions had a seat at the table of government under the Prices & Incomes Accord. This followed the disastrous period of stagflation during the Fraser Government, where we suffered the debilitating combination of spiralling inflation and high unemployment.

Under the Accord unions exercised wage restraint, in return for a social wage – social policy (Medicare), and universal superannuation. But the problem for unions during this period was that they lost direct relevance to their members, outcomes were negotiated at the peak level and employees received these outcomes regardless of union membership, or the efforts of unions.

The need for more direct relevance to employees/union members helped unions understand the need to decentralise wage outcomes, providing the environment where enterprise bargaining could be introduced.

There are probably many factors that have perpetuated the constant 25 year decline, here’s a few –

– The decline of the traditional economy, manufacturing, public utilities – industries that employed large numbers of union members and deployed them into largely unsatisfying, impersonal generic jobs.

– Increase in the participation of women in the workforce, women have traditionally had lower levels of union membership, in comparison to males.

– The contemporary service industry is dispersed, and possibly personalised, it is more difficult to organise and unionise.

– People may see their work as an extension of their social life, and embrace the personal interaction, rather than focus on (perceived?) less personal collective actions and decisions. The image of unionism may not reflect the aspirational generation.

– An increase in the number of casuals and independent contractors.

– The behaviour of some unions in building and construction is unlikely to have enhanced the image of unionism in the wider community.

– During the past few years there have been increased legislated restrictions on the right of entry to the workplace for union officials.

Regardless of the factors, unions provide representation for a (small?) minority of the workforce today.

How should workers be protected in the absence of effective union representation?

What are the strategies unions should use to increase membership?

Should we worry about unions these days?

There is data on union membership on the ABS site – 6310.0.

A google search on the subject will also provide some interesting reading.

Tom of Melbourne

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85 Responses

  1. Excellent post Tom!

    I think the role of unions is less important these days, now that we have a Labor government that is taking a more balanced approach to employee rights while also recognising commercial imperatives.

    However, had Howard (and Minchin) been re-elected, then I would have seen a more crucial and necessary role for unions, as both Minchin and Howard would have regarded an election win (and today’s current economic conditions) as the perfect excuse and justification to strip more rights away from the most vulnerable workers in society, ie; those working in low-skilled or unskilled professions to the benefit of big business.

    In saying that though, I believe that the ‘thuggery” and bullying tactics of union leaders in the past have no place in modern society as far as I’m concerned.

    It’s no longer a case of ‘them’ and ‘us’. We now need to accept that we’re all in this together and need to work collaboratively in the best interests of ‘the company’ as well as ‘the individual”.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to work in companies where the culture is one of “happy employees are productive employees” rather then one where employees are just treated like dirt.

  2. Good article Tom.

    Well said reb. Some of the most successful large scale infrastructure, service and manufacturing businesses in the world are ones where (sometimes begrudgingly) employers and unions work together.

    During the height of the waterfront dispute here I read about one of the most productive ports in the world in Holland. It is almost 100% union run but only because the employer and government insist on a cooperative model for running the port as it is so vital to the country, especially such a small country.

    In an interview with the CEO of the port on how successful they are in working with unions, he said it isn’t that easy for both sides but they always work through it. He said they both always have to compromise, sometimes after long and hard negotiations and work is never disrupted whilst they negotiate. He said he isn’t entirely happy with the work structure, rosters, work conditions, manning levels, breaks and pay scales of the workers but he knows the unions aren’t entirely happy either, so it must about right.

    I vaguely remember a company here who worked closely with unions and encouraged union membership in their business saying a similar thing.

    In both these cases productivity is high, which appears to be the case for most cooperatively run employer/union workforces. Conversely it appears that workforces run exclusively on individual contracts have significantly lower productivity levels and this makes sense if you take the human factor into account (greed), especially in low paid or high hazard work places. Individual contracts do not encourage extra productivity only for workers to do as much as is required by the contract and nothing more. The way this can be improved is if the contract stipulates better conditions for the next contract if productivity targets are met or exceeded, but that is rarely the case and in many cases I have known the new contract either takes away conditions and/or pay or remains the same but stipulates productivity must be increased for the same pay and conditions. The other way I heard a bit about in Tim’s and other blogs is workers on individual contracts being rewarded above the contracted conditions, but this also occurs in collective systems and is purely an employer/employee relationship function, not one of the IR system.

    Unions still have relevance but only if they modernise and get rid of the militancy (along with their few remaining dinosaurs). But business also has some dinosaur hangovers that need culling, so it’s a two way street as it has always been. This is why what Hawke (a reformed union dinosaur) and Keating did in reforming the industrial landscape is so impressive. What Howard (an unreformed business dinosaur hangover) did in an attempt destroy it will be spoken about in history for a long time to come so I won’t repeat it here.

  3. Nice work Tom, not even a little bit rabid IMO.

    Personally I think Unions are very important & I’ve always been in one. Having worked for a handful of large companys of “questionable” integrity (present employer excluded), at least when it came to dealing ruthlessly with their employees, I reckon that Unions are still essential to keep such poor employers honest.

    I agree that Unions are losing some relevance to the wider community but I also think that many members have unrealistic expectations of what a Union can actually do for them.

    You mentioned casualisation & increased usage of contractors, I don’t see this as a real benefit for anyone other than the obvious exploitational flexibility it grants management.

    I’d like to discuss this further but must rush off to arvo shift now…because it’s the weekend there won’t be a manager in sight, only 100% CFMEU members; believe it or not the place runs better on weekends.

  4. Tom, I think this is an excellent balanced commentary.

  5. Nice post and some good questions posed Tom.

    Adrian’s observations are pretty spot on as well (as usual)

  6. Reb personally I don’t feel as comfortable that unions are not needed so much now that we have a Labor Govt. In fact maybe unions are too close to the Govt to represent their members as well as they should.

    If workers don’t want to totally be walked all over then unions are a must. But they must be unions that are not in bed with the Govt.

    Govts of both colours have broken the social contract by allowing hospitals and education to run down. Assets formally in public hands are now in the hands of private companies. Companies who are not morally or ethically committed to the communities they operate in, mainly/solely in making a buck.

    To be perfectly honest I don’t see the ALP as being too worker friendly either. They are more so than the Libs, but so they should be when they are receiving union (workers) money.

    Despite laws to ‘protect’ employees there a few avenues a person has of getting justice in the workplace unless they are very cashed up and can afford a good lawyer.

    Alot of people see no need for unions, until they need one. If Howard had been successful in getting rid of unions there could well be a very different industrial situation.

    As long as there is a union presence no matter how small, there is always the chance that workers will rally behind them given the right provocation.

    Once the structure has been destroyed, and difficult to rebuild quickly then the workers will find out how benevolent their bosses really are, especially in hard times.

  7. I actually think what Howard did manage to do was emasculate the union movement.

    The waterfront dispute turned the unions into a rubber stamp by and large for employers. Now would be a good time for unions to return to their roots ie workers representatives NOT aspiring politicians.

  8. Too right, Tracie! The current ALP govt is just as likely to downgrade working conditons if it suits them as did the Liberal Party.

    I believe Hawke & Keating have to bear a lot of the blame for the demise of the unions with their creation of ‘super unions’ when they were in government.

    Like a government needs a good opposition for an effective democracy so we need unions to protect workers’ rights.

    We tend to forget that the AMA, employers’ federations and other professional organisations are also unions with a lot of power, but these rarely get the criticism that gets thrown at ‘workers’ unions. What better examples of closed shop unions is there than the medical specialists’ colleges?

  9. Thank you; I can be balanced about this topic, if I try really hard to overcome my preference for logic.

    Adrian, I think the example of co-operative relationships is valid. The basis of the relationship must come from respect for the reliance both arties have on one another.

    The circumstances of our own waterfront ere unable to develop this respect, for a range of reasons. There was a long history of rorting, and worse.

    The Keating Government tried hard at co-operative reform, but was stymied by the self interest of an affiliated union.

    Some may argue that it is the fault of management that it allowed this workforce to become so misaligned. Possibly.

    Alignment and co-operation is the best model, the problem is how to get there when the starting position is mistrust and disrespect.

  10. 9. Tom of Melbourne | November 22, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    The basis of the relationship must come from respect for the reliance both arties have on one another.

    Nah Tom, there was no respect by the CEO of the Dutch port, in fact he could hardly contain his disdain.

    It appeared to be a relationship of forced necessity and I have no doubt if that port was given something like WorkChoices then the unions would have been kicked out quick smart, wages and conditions slashed and work shifts increased. I also have no doubt if that had happened in the long run productivity would have gone down at the port and it would have dropped off being one of the most efficient in the world (in fact I think at the time it was number one, which is why they investigated it).

  11. .Adrian, I’m not new age hippy. By respect, I don’t mean an industrial version of “make love, not war”.

    I’m suggesting that for a level of co-operation it is necessary to respect the interests of each party. Deliberate rorts, a history of ghosting, mistrust aren’t solid foundations.

    The parties in the case you refer to understood that basic trust is necessary. They may not jointly determine the future of the organisation, but they share a commitment to its continuation.

    I’m not sure this existed on the Australian waterfront. And let me suggest that no one in their right mind would agree to a return to the pre dispute work practices and union activities

  12. Tom

    A really thoughtful contribution and one that I’m sure unions are struggling with. In fact, I know this to be the case. Well presented.

  13. I don’t see what the big deal is. If workers want to form groups of common purpose for the sake of lobbying and mutual advancement of their lot in the economy, then it’s no one’s business but theirs, in my opinion.

    Businesses and employers form unions of their own (though not usually referred to as “unions”), and no one seems to bat an eyelid.

    So what makes workers’ unions different?

    If it’s because of the militant actions of some unions or unionists in the past, it’s high time the critics got over this peculiarity of history and embraced the present and looked towards the future.

    If the problem is that unions have their “own” political party, well, there’s nothing to stop their critics forming their own party to oppose “the unions” … Wait, a party with such an anti-union agenda already exists: it’s called the Liberal Party.

    anyway, it’s a free country, a democracy, with the right (I think) to freedom of association. As long as people comply with the law, there should be no problem them forming any sort of groups they wish, for whatever economic, social or cultural aims they desire. No one is compelled to join, so if you’re not interested, “live and let live”.

  14. “There was a long history of rorting, and worse.”

    True! And it applies to both sides. Were you aware of that?

    Tom your facts are devoid of an historical context. To understand why the wharf unionist behaved as they did you have to go back to the 1930s at a minimum.

    You have to look at the working conditions of the time. You need to look at the ‘Bull’ system; the ‘man-killer shifts; the ‘speed-up’ system; the serious deterioration in workers’ health (documented); the decline in real wages by a third; and so on.

    As for “the aspirational generation’! It is a concept employed by Howard as a wedge. Please tell me a time when ALL people weren’t aspirational. lol.

    If you want to know whether unions are relevant or not, just ask any big employer who is most certainly member of a collective (union). Just ask any politician who realises that they too must be a member of a collective (Party) if they want to be successful.

    What you say is factual but I could provide a whole set of different facts that would communicate a very different story. History is like that. History is much more than facts, it’s about interpretations, meanings and it’s also about theory

  15. Well Nature 5, I’m not entirely sure what exactly you are disagreeing with, but I’m sure the disagreement is good for you.

    Unionism actually extends further back than the 1930s!!! There were struggles before that!

    I don’t particularly care who coined the phrase “aspirational generation”. It is simply used to describe the materialistic attitudes of generation y. Those that need a 4 bedroom house for 2 or 3 people, a couple of 4 wheel drives for the city. Hardly people that are inclined towards unionism.

    Unions have simply been unable to connect with contemporary occupations. They cannot figure out how to be relevant to the type of jobs and opinions that predominate these days.

    There’re about as relevant as the 1970s Swedish pop scene.

    Don’t complain to me. Blame them. But that’s just a thoery, an opinion and an interpretation.

    Kind regards

  16. ”No one is compelled to join, so if you’re not interested, “live and let live”.”

    No worries Caney. A lot of unions would disagree. Since legislation ruled out closed shops, preference clauses and compulsory unionism, union membership has continued its downward spiral.

    It was the compulsive end that propped up some membership. As voluntary organisations, they’re hardly relevant.

  17. Nature 5

    Unions are badly in need of an image change it would seem. You’re right, much of what passes as alleged bad behaviour needs to be viewed in an historical context, however, there direct link to the Labor Party and the push by a number union leaders into political ranks in an attempt to push union agendas and this will always be viewed and portrayed in a negative context by political opponents.

    I also agree with Tom that unions have lost touch with the rank and file of working Australians and it’s my view that they’ve become more interested in politics than actually getting down and doing the hard work of representing members on daily to day basis and not just when a ‘campaign’ targeting IR laws such as Work Choices comes about.

    Believe me, there are a lot of disillusioned members as well as union ‘organisers’ that complain about the lack of direction and motivation coming from union leaders in issues that matter. The problem as many see it is the drive by many of these leaders to use their positions as a stepping stone into politics – and the only issues they want to address are those that bring the most media exposure.

    In fact, have a look at the amount of union activity addressing some major issues in the NSW public service by UNIONS NSW etc and you’ll see that throughout the whole anti-Work Choices campaign very little fuss was raised against the NSW Government on behalf of workers simply because Robbo didn’t want it to effect Federal ALP’s chances of winning the election. This is a fact I had confirmed by a media boss just prior to the election after Robbo refused to answer some of my questions on a media sponsored blog..

    Sad but true.

  18. In 2004 I spoke at a major anti-bullying campaign launch for UNIONS NSW, representatives from the NSW Police, Nurses and Teachers were all there as well as others. And that’s pretty much where the campaign ended simply because the problem was so rife within the NSW Public Service that to launch a major assault would have conflicted with the aspirations of some union leaders to move into political ranks.

    No Bully For You
    http://workers.labor.net.au/features/200410/b_tradeunion_summit.html

    Take Essential Media Communications who were controlling the anti- Work Choices campaign on behalf of unions – turned out to be a bunch of hypocrites.

    http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23748014-28737,00.html

    Then we have a raft of other reports that unions seem to have failed to address:

    Royal North Shore bullying rife
    https://blogocrats.wordpress.com/2008/11/22/are-unions-still-relevant-anymore/#comment-6743

    Exclusive by Joe Hildebrand, Political Reporter

    October 05, 2007 12:00am

    CHRONIC bullying and harassment is rife throughout Royal North Shore Hospital, with staff terrified to speak out and the Nurses Association turning a blind eye to the crisis.

    National teacher-bullying crisis
    http://www.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/story/0,22049,22844878-5006009,00.html
    By Bruce McDougall, Education Reporter

    November 30, 2007 12:00am

    MORE than 90 per cent of teachers say they have been bullied by colleagues.

    The teachers also claim they have been exposed to unmanageable workloads and have been ignored, frozen out or excluded from decision making.

    The frightening picture of dysfunctional relationships and low morale in schools is exposed in a new national online survey – the first of its kind in Australia.

    Bullying concerns ‘fell on deaf ears’
    http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/bullying-concerns-fell-on-deaf-ears/2008/07/09/1215282928015.html
    Natasha Wallace
    July 10, 2008

    AMBULANCE management had been “grossly negligent and dismissive” in handling complaints by a female officer about bullying at Cowra before she eventually committed suicide, her former supervisor has told a parliamentary inquiry.

    The Herald has learnt that no women have been appointed to the Cowra ambulance station in the three years since the first and only female officer there, Christine Hodder, hanged herself in her backyard after allegedly enduring years of bullying and harassment by up to seven male colleagues.

    An internal investigation by the NSW Ambulance Service after Mrs Hodder’s death in 2005 recommended a male replace her and that no female be hired there for six months.

    There were 24 recommendations “to address better management of harassment and bullying” but no officer was disciplined after the investigation.

    Mrs Hodder’s former supervisor, Phil Roxburgh, said his complaints had fallen on deaf ears. He told the inquiry he was fed up with the “harassment, bullying, and intimidation which still continues unabated in the service, coupled with management’s dysfunctional handling and empty posturing concerning these occurrences”.

  19. Very decent post Tom.

    I agree that the unions’ importance has declined over the years. However, I still think there will always be a role for the unions to represent workers.Their role will become more significant when workers’ rights are challenged or lowered, as we saw with “WorkChoices”.

    I would like to see the unions work independently of the ALP. Then union officials will be better able to focus on representing workers and their rights. I don’t know why the unions need to have 50% of the delegates at ALP conferences. I wonder what percentage of ALP members belong to a union?

  20. Great balanced post, Tom!

    Read most of the posts and don’t have much to add.

    Having been on both sides of the fence (ie union member and management) – I have always believed – and still do – that unions are the product of poor management practices…

    …treat the troops with respect and you rarely have trouble…the benefit of the old awards was that they created a “basic” foundation for further negotion – EBA’s took that a little further and then Workchoices sought to diminish workers rights (fought for by unions) and swing the power back to employers…

    …BTW, Tom, I do agree that some union officials can be ar$holes (I dealt with the Federated Ironworkers back in the 80’s) but I also worked for management whose ar$hole executives contrived issues to “create” strikes – ‘because they wanted the workers out for a couple of weeks…

    …in answer to your title, the short answer is yes…long answer is, as the economy starts to crumble next year they will become more and more relevant in the workplace as employers start to squeeze employees to retain that last drop of profit…

    …I know that there is a link between the ALP and unions – history will tell you why – if they weren’t we would have a one party government – while unions are affiliated with Labor – business and business unions (Chambers of C, AIG etc) are affiliated with Liberals – Farmers Union with the Nats – and guess who associates with the Greens (heard of the WWF, Sea Sheperds & Co?)

    All political parties all have affiliations ’cause they all have a barra to push – the Sex Party is promoted by the adult sex industry!

    I’ve always though it was significant that a Labor government was the trigger to diminish the influence of unions in the workplace – but that then diminishes the theory that unions control the ALP…

  21. After 12 months of a Rudd Government, it must be time for the bastard unions to come out of the woodwork and start running the country … cos the unions control the ALP doncha know. I seem to remember our worthy poster telling us that once or 89923 times and predicting we’d all be under the Trades Hall jackboot by now.

    And wasn’t Rudd supposed to be turfed out within a year, replaced by mad commie Julia Gillard for whom Rudd was only the stalking horse?

    Well I’m sure the union bosses are still plotting … they’re so devious no-one even sees them in the news any more now Howard and Costello aren’t around to warn us about them every week or so … Rudd will be dancing to their tune any day now, just you watch.

  22. Welcome, Ken L (mmmm sounds familiar)!

    😆

  23. Ssssshhhhhh Ken!
    Don’t blow their cover.
    I have an EBA coming up for renegotiation in the next couple of months & I don’t want you to spook Rudd from coming in & trampling all over the company in an effort to get me more breaks, a better coffee machine & a heavier wallet.
    After my union rams through its demands we usually collectively slither to our secret pavillion & eat capitalist babies in a triumphant orgy of self affirmation.
    Glad that the unions are back at the levers? you betcha.

  24. Gee Ken, that is really clever and informed commentary. Such insight & depth. Yet so much misinformation in such a few short sentences.

    Now who exactly said Ms Gillard would be PM by now? Of course unions already run the country because the run the party that run the government.

    Still, we’ll have to wait for the ABCC to be abolished, and allowing industrial action over non employment pertaining matters before we can truely say that they are in control.

  25. Not only that TB business unions and businesses are gradually moving over to the ALP as well. Look at how much more business now donates and supports the ALP than they used to and how the Liberal are having troubles getting funding or at the minimum matching the business funding to Labor. Labor is also positioning itself away from relying on unions and that started under Hawke/Keating. It’s very telling that the very hard core union officials who have been elected into the government now speak out against some unionists and union activities and support policy that curtails unionism.

    That tells you something very important as to where Labor stands and conversely where the Liberals have moved to. Remember that the business unions were all supposed to become antagonistic against a Labor government and make life hard for it, yet here we see business leaders like Riddout and others mostly agreeing with Rudd and openly supporting him, even at times criticising the opposition.

    There is a balance and relevance being strived for and from what I’m seeing it is gradually being reached, even unions know this and are moving towards it. I see unions modernising and taking on new roles, even becoming successfully involved in their own business entities. The one area unions are relevant is for women as they are still disadvantaged in the workforce, and increased female membership reflects this.

    And on your last sentence Tom, back again, Unions Boo!

    Tom even in this thread you started where you have been as fair and balanced as possible there is still this undertone of workers unions bad and evil (boo! in other words), yet a softer undertone on the infractions of business management and business unions (using the term possibly for instance).

    We have talked about union dinosaurs who cannot move into the presence and their business counterparts like Hendy, it appears to me you in some ways are also a dinosaur refusing to move on.

  26. It was a fair post and the first 20 comments were reasonable and serious. Then Ken comes along and writes a bit of inflammatory stuff that doesn’t contribute anything valuable to this discussion.

    Unfortunately Tom, your response, “Of course unions already run the country because the run the party that run the government”, is ridiculous. Unions do have an influence on the ALP, no doubt about that. However, they are definitely not the only influence.

  27. Well Adrian & Alistair, I would really regret it if anyone considered that I’d gone soft on my traditional opinions. It was kind of Ken to reorient me to the tradition.

    Of course the introduction piece was really testing, as rationality does not come easily to me. Give me polarising, hard edged blather (such as Ken’s) any day.

  28. Wish I had the success when I’m after fish that I always get with Tom … talk about line and sinker 😀

  29. The unions may well run the Labor Party but it is nonsense to suggest that they run the Rudd Government. Yes folks, it is the Rudd Government not the Labor Government.

    It is not unusual to have a great gap between Labor Policy and Government Policy. Bracks, Iemma, Goss (to name but a few) will attest to that. Thus who runs the Party becomes somewhat irrelevant in terms of what the Rudd Government does. Just ask some the Party faithful.

    As for the Liberals they simply do not have a base anymore. They are irrelevant. Adrian is correct.

  30. That’s really kind of you Ken, You’ve always been such a clever wit.

    I’ll really be glad if you hang around here, this site needs more mindless apologists for militant unionism (some of whom are masquerading as ALP politicians you know!).

    Nature 5, that makes brilliant sense – the ALP won the election, and Rudd is their leader, but they’re not actually the Australian Labor Party!! Mamma Mia, how can I resist such logic??

    Of course, Bracks wasn’t Labor either, didn’t give the unions a look in. Good old John Button was dreaming when he said that union officials had won about 20 of the preselections in a row, for winnable seats. What would he know????

    By the way Adrian, Heather Riddot was not part of the employer funded factual advertising campaign prior to the last election. Her organisation chose to be apolitical. Shame on them!!

    TB – I didn’t realise that the NFF actually participated in the country party. But then they do accept membership from livestock, and some that aren’t live.

  31. We live in a classless society, don’t we? As a teacher unionist for 30+ years it always amused me that our “profession” was highly unionised and often acted collectively. When I first joined the Victorian Secondary Teachers Association in the 70s “professional action” was our euphemism for industrial campaigns, including strike action. Those were the days before “working families” became the all embracing term for the working and middle classes.
    During the 80s Bill Kelty and Simon Crean grappled at the ACTU with the decline of union membership through their strategy of super unions with little obvious success. The Australian Education Union may be an exception. The changing the nature of many workplaces and the new technologies are still issues which puzzle the leadership of the union movement.

  32. Nature 5 at number 29 wrote:

    As for the Liberals they simply do not have a base anymore.

    They still have their geriatric base. It’s their only reliable cohort now, though it shrinks every day due to natural attrition. Blogger Possum Comitatus did a splendid post on this some time ago. Worth the read to see the problems facing the Coalition!

    The Coalition’s Trainwreck

  33. Hmmm, re post 32, for some inexplicable reason the link takes you to a different page altogether from the one I intended. Sorry about that. Please try the following:

    http://possumcomitatus.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/the-coalitions%25e2%2580%2599-demographic-train-wreck/

    If that doesn’t work, simply google “Possum Coalition Demographic Train Wreck”

  34. They still have their geriatric base. It’s their only reliable cohort now, though it shrinks every day due to natural attrition.

    And the religious nutters that the party has been courting for some time.

    Ken, great to hear from you again.

    Tom I can’t much see the point of a debate with you on the subject of unions. You are irrational in your hatred of them, you argue in the same style as religious fundamentalists/ creationists – circular and illogical, distorted arguments that shift and change to suit your prejudices. There is no point in chasing your union rabbits down all the burrows.

  35. TB , I read your post earlier on my mobile. I probably didn’t do the commentary justice.

    Management is almost always to blame for poor industrial relations (seriously). Most employees start a job with the intention of doing it well. They would like to be successful, and would prefer to work for an expanding company to a shrinking one.

    But while the misalignment may originally be the fault of management, it is also to responsibility of management to resolve the result. This is what reform involves, and there are few that would choose reform by conflict as a first option.

    Adrian, I think many unions are changing. They usually provide a wider range of services than simple industrial representation. Their efforts are often held back by the traditional behaviour of those in construction, mining and some areas of manufacturing. There are in fact, less than half a dozen that maintain a form of behaviour that spoils the pubic sentiment towards the overwhelming majority.

    And yes, I agree about being a dinosaur. Probably a crocodile, a species that has survived for aeons. Primitive but unpredictably vicious.

    And Kittylitter, being compared to religious fundamentalists/ creationists is a first form me. Certainly more contemporary than a dinosaur. Thanks.

  36. Tom re your comment:

    “the ALP won the election, and Rudd is their leader,”

    Time to get technical! The ALP didn’t win the election because the ALP as an organisation didn’t even contest the election. Individuals contested the election in various electorates approximately half of whom did so on the basis they represented the ALP. But what does that mean?

    As in the past they were supposedly committed to the ALP policies. A quick look at ALP history will show that the ALP was committed to the ‘socialist objective’ for more than eighty (80) years. You know – public ownership of the means of production. It was a plank inserted to garner union support. Historically, it means very, very little when it comes to what actually happened.

    Tom it may come as a surprise but that policy was ignored for eight decades. No member was expelled because that policy was not actioned. A bit like the Liberal Party’s claim to be Liberal. Party policy is not government policy.

    Rudd is not the ‘Leader of the Labor Party’, try the SA Premier. Rudd is the Leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party. He and other elected members decide what government will or will not pursue. Currently his power is unfettered by unions or factions. You need to end your slumber and discard your theories which don’t pick out the current facts. Rudd was never a captive of the unions and never will be.

    Because you seem keen on Italian expressions, you might want to ponder this one re your intellectual position – Ti sta bene.

  37. Greta debata sinsa Ken L ah! – bellisimo…

    Appreciate your reply, Tom, I still reckon your’e just stirring the possum but that’s cool! Good stuff!

    😀

  38. Nice work Ken.L and you caught yourself a big one.

    Tom considering how much you dislike the unions i think you did an ok job. I also know its hard to write an article when you know most responses are going to be negative.

  39. Well Nature 5, I find the idea that the Rudd Government is not part of the ALP a very innovative form of thinking.

    Rudd has personally established a level of ascendency above some of the traditional factional brawling, but the fact that this relies on his personal popularity is hardly a recipe for enduring political success.

    It comes down to the difference between the capability of an individual (Rudd is no doubt quite personally popular and capable) and the structure and systems of the party (the ALP is deficient in this in my opinion). Unless the structure and systems are right, reliance on the individual can cause success to be quite fleeting.

  40. Only just read this thread, but, it was quite a good blog Tom.

    I think that you missed one of the main reasons for the decline in membership, and that is the success of the unions.

    The unions were so successful that they had almost made themselves redundant.

    With the Award system, employees are now covered, with or without union involvement, for their basic entitlements.

    Many people take advantage of these benefits, without considering the previous fights that had been fought to secure these rights.

    Thank god howard gave them relevance again.

    It is to be seen if they can use this lifeline to re-invent themselves.

    However, early indications, in the form of the teachers strike in SA, indicate that they will not.

    In this case, they appear to have somehow turned almost unanimous suport for the teachers cause around, to the point where people are just fed up with the whole situation.

    And I disagree entirely with your unfounded attack on70’s pop groups (one in particular), they appear more relevant today than ever.

    spavento dell’uguale del sindacato

  41. Tom

    A great balanced article.

    The only problem iIhave is exactly what I said in a previous discussion about unions last week. “In the US union recruiters are banned from workplace education while the businesses are hiring outside consultants to run anti union sessions which are compulsory attendance for employees”

    This is in the Weekend Australian Newspaper 2 weekends ago.

    Until the playing field is level how on earth can unions continue to maintain or even increase their membership.

    I remember in the previous Bank I worked for, who had satellite TV every morning, which was compulsory attendance, we always had management bashing the union and blaming them for everything. So pretty much the same thing only done differently.

    Level the playing field and then see what happens.

  42. Tom R, you are so right.

    Many young people do not reallise that the benefits they do have are the product of union activity, but are bequeathed to them by benevolent employers. Having said that I think a few of them got a rude awakening with AWA’s.

    Tom of Melbourne articulted the essentially anti-social nature of extreme capitalism on the Geoff Dixon thread.

    TB & Shane, as we know, private equity buyouts are rarely long term investments. They see intrinsic or unreleased value in a company, do a bit of slashing and burning and then on sell it.

    We may or may not think this is ethical, but directors have to consider an offer on the merits of the price offered. They don’t have to have regard to the likely restructuring that will occur following sale, and a new ownership structure.

    It would be a big mistake to think people who think like this even consider their employees as people rather than commodities.

    While the workers unions survive there exists a mechanism for workers to act collectively – any non Union members supporter the YRAW campaign. This is what scares business unions. The capacity of unions to organise the workforce regardless of their on paper membership.

    Why else do you think the right are so anxious to malign and discredit unions? If they were irrelevant we would not even be having this discussion.

    Unions need to remind workers where their working conditions come from. They need to act in the interest of the workers first and foremost, not as a rubber stamp for business owners and ALP policy.

    This will only happen with a union leadership that is not aspiring to a career in politics.

  43. Tracie

    Employees became commodities as soon as the word Personnel was replaced with Human Resources. A word coined by the good old USA.

  44. Exactly. So it is clear we cannot trust employers to act in the workers interests. What is less clear is whether workers can trust unions to work in their interests.

  45. Tracie

    I agree unions need to earn the workers trust, however with all their teeth being pulled out by the previous government it makes it very difficult for them to act on behalf of their memebers as their rights have been removed. A union cannot gum a bad employer it needs teeth.

    I know a lot of people will scream bad old days with strike after strike, but I think many unions have moved on. You will always have bad apples in both unions and employers, the task is to try and weed them out of both sides.

  46. Shane strikes and boycotts are the only powers unions and workers really have, it employers refuse to bargain in good faith.

    The ALP are just as bad as the previous Govt in regards to castrating (a more appropriate term IMO) the unions. If a Govt makes striking illegal, then maybe some unions should consider civil disobedience as a last resort?

    Some people may have moved on, but I’m sure they may rethink their views when they are the ones being shafted. Only an ALP supporter would posit that workers will not be exploited because their party is in Govt.

    They have come a long way from ‘ripping up workchoices’. If unions leaders are to compromised to do their job properly they should get out, and go and become an ALP staffer or something.

    One thing the GFC hasn’t changed is the idea that company profits are sacrosanct.

  47. Tell me Tracie, how has any Australian government made striking illegal? Strikes are entirely legal, and the right is protected.

    Some wildcat strikes by militant unions weren’t in anyone’s interest, they only occurred to satisfy some destructive power lust for some of the strike leaders. They are no longer available, and I’d be interested in whether there are any rational people that wish to return to that type of action.

  48. Tom

    You must now give 3 days notice of a strike which gives management the time to counter any possibility of the strike being effective by coercing employees and recruiting strike breakers.

    Strikes are illegal if they are conducted outside the approved bargaining period.

    I notice you say some wildcat strikes. When did you last see an actual wildcat strike ?. The inability to strike outside enterprise bargaining peroids which made wildcat strikes illegal came in under Keating as treasurer.

  49. Shane, by “wildcat” I meant a strike that did not comply with legal process. Such as has existed under the Keating reforms or under current legislation.

    Providing 3 days is intended to ensure that we don’t get a return to the BLF style behaviour of interrupting a concrete pour with strike action.

    I doubt whether there are many strike breakers that can be recruited in 3 days!

  50. Tell me Tracie, how has any Australian government made striking illegal? Strikes are entirely legal, and the right is protected.

    As I understand it striking is only legal during the bargaining period, and the employer is able to lock out workers. What about issues eg health and safety that come up outside of bargaining periods?

    The fact that some unions overstepped the mark, is no excuse to throw the baby out with the bath water. Just because some business owners are crooks should we ban private enterprise? Of course not.

    The bad eggs need to be weeded out. Most of these are people feathering their own nests who have no real regard for their members interests anyway.

    Why is strike action so ‘irrational’ as a last resort anyway. Of course anti-worker types don’t like it because it is a source of power to the worker. Far better for workers to have no substantial means of collective action, than bosses to actually have to treat their workers as human beings right?

  51. Tom

    Please answer when did you last see a strike that did not comply with legal process ?

    Providing 3 days notice negates the reason for a strike Tom.

    The 3 days notice is after all negotiations have been exhausted.

    If you doubt strike breakers can be recruited in 3 days then think again, management re arranges all its own staff and then recruits from outsourced labor hire companies for temporary labour.

    I don’t think anyone wants to return to BLF days but there are hundreds of unions and you still persist in labelling them like the BLF, how about a more open perspective on the matter. The BLF is just like Telstra these days arrogant and trying to get their way by railroading the place.

  52. Shane, it is quite unlike you to misrepresent my opinion so unreasonably. I’ve never characterised all unions in the manner you suggest. In comment #36 I said –

    “I think many unions are changing. They usually provide a wider range of services than simple industrial representation. Their efforts are often held back by the traditional behaviour of those in construction, mining and some areas of manufacturing. There are in fact, less than half a dozen that maintain a form of behaviour that spoils the pubic sentiment towards the overwhelming majority.”

    I said “less than half a dozen” and reflected positively on the “overwhelming majority”!!!!!!!!

    Shane, your comment really is a little unfair.

    Tracie, any worker is entitled to withdraw form any work or work area that represents a danger to health and safety. That protection is legislated in each state. Unfortunately some unions in building and construction used spurious health and safety grounds to stop work.

    This really spoiled this discipline for people genuinely interested in protecting the welfare of people. They wanted to be active in health and safety, not be used as a lever in a game of union tactics.

    I’ve not seen anyone (me included) that is arguing against the right to strike, so I’m not sure what your other point is.

  53. Tom R @41, good point. So let’s have them a bit more like the RSL!!

  54. Tom

    If you think I am misrepresenting your opinion then I withdraw my comment.

    However why do you continue to refer to the BLF days, you seem to want to pick the worst time in the unions history rather than the positive aspects and the outcomes they have achived over many decades before and since those days.

  55. Tom does the Federal legislation allow a right to strike for OH&S reasons? I can’t find anywhere that it does either under Howard or the ALP. As for your not arguing against the right to strike, I can’t see anywhere where you have supported it or anything else to do with traditional unions, but I could be wrong.

    Am I to take it you support strike action outside of the period allowed by Howard and the ALP, when issues of health and safety are concerned?

    I agree that some got out of hand, but for the same old reason – power. Those union leaders who forgot their job was to facilitate equitable working conditions for employees. No one is supporting these people.

    In fact ‘leaders’ of this type are as detrimental to the workers they are paid to represent, as greedy, thoughtless employers are.

  56. “Am I to take it you support strike action outside of the period allowed by Howard and the ALP, when issues of health and safety are concerned?”

    When people stop work because of health and safety, I don’t think this can properly be called a strike. People have the right to protect themselves from danger in the workplace. Probably not just the right, they have the obligation to look after themselves and their mates.

    I don’t see people stopping work on this basis as a problem at all. The problem arises when unions just use this as an industrial tactic, and misuse health & safety to advance another agenda. On this basis I don’t think that health and safety regulation should be combined with industrial legislation.

    I think you’ll find that occupational health and safety is entirely state based legislation, but I believe there are moves to set up a national approach. This is probably a good idea.

  57. When people stop work because of health and safety, I don’t think this can properly be called a strike. People have the right to protect themselves from danger in the workplace. Probably not just the right, they have the obligation to look after themselves and their mates.

    I agree. But why do you support the ABCC who clearly do not support workers rights to a safe workplace.

    Employees on the project have highlighted at least 80 serious health and safety violations, management reneging on negotiated agreements and ramped up working hours beyond an agreed 56 hours per week as sources of conflict. The sacking of Ballard was a final straw.

    So shocked and offended at the construction bosses rough-handed and arrogant treatment of their rights and conditions, the CFMEU members continued their strike despite recommendations to return to work from their union officials.

    CFMEU officials knew the ABCC was vigorously investigating allegations of industrial action taken last year on the site and as the penal powers of the newly created ABCC were made retrospective, construction workers could be penalised for action that was legal at the time it was taken.

    The ABCC also has powers to coerce cooperation from construction workers, including an ability to jail individuals for up to six months for non-cooperation. These powers have no parallel under the normal criminal code, but reflect an extension to the ABCC of powers granted under the “anti-terrorism” laws to the ASIO secret police agency.

    My emphasis. Retrospective penal laws??? An extension of anti-terror laws??? Good grief.

    The ABCC are every bit as bad as those irresponsible union leaders. And so are Govts that allow such unprecedented powers to such as organisation.

  58. Sorry link for the above quote here.

    BTW I did voice my concerns about the new sedition laws which included industrial action as sedition, when the laws were being debated, with a local union ‘leader’.

    Wasn’t interested. Some union leaders are simply not worthy of the title or the pay that goes with it.

    And you have to wonder about the ALP in this respect as well.

  59. Tracie, Greenleft is hardly a journal of record.

    If I used data from the IPA you’d view it with some scepticism. Probably with some justification. This material should be viewed with similar scepticism.

    The case related to industrial activity on railway construction in WA, and I think you’d find that there is considerably more context than is provided by the Greenleft.

    That case was an example of the misuse of occupational health and safety as part of an industrial campaign, in my opinion.

    You’d be wise to expand the credibility of your references; they’re about as credible as me quoting the findings of the HR Nichols Society annual conference and piss up.

  60. So do you have a source that disputes the bare facts of the article? Or are you simply shooting the messenger because the facts are distasteful in that they demonstrate how little balance exists in the ABCC process?

    As far as I can tell this case is still awaiting an outcome. Very hard to find ANY media coverage at all.

    So assuming the facts of the story are correct, do you approve of the powers of the ABCC?

    Retrospective or not, no worker should ever face inprisonment or outrageous fines for striking.

    From “The Ballad of 1891”

    To trial at Rockhampton the fourteen men were brought
    The judge had got his orders, the squatters owned the court
    But for every one that’s sentenced, ten thousand won’t forget
    Where they jail a man for striking, it’s a rich man’s country yet

    So who is starting a class war then?

  61. Tom you have previously said you support industrial action on OH&S issues, but are now claiming this particular case was not a genuine OH&S issue.

    On what grounds do you make this comment? What in your view is a ‘genuine’ OH&S issue?

  62. Tracie, the Perth – Mandurah rail link was widely reported in the media. I don’t have a specific reference, just do a google search on it combined with “industrial dispute” and have a read.

    I don’t think this one was about health and safety, it was about industrial relations, and how construction sites are either controlled by a management or by a union. It was a struggle for control, and the union saw it as their opportunity to re exert control of construction in WA.

    It is a very poor case study for anyone wanting to justify a view that unions are now willing to behave with more responsibility.

    My point about stopping work on safety grounds is simple. It a person is unsafe, they should not do the work. I don’t regard this as an industrial issue.

    The Perth – Mandurah rail link was an example of unions misusing safety to run an entirely different (industrial power) agenda, they don’t deserve support for this.

  63. Welcome back Tom, thought we had lost you there for a moment, you were starting to post some reasonable and considered comments, thought perhaps someone was using your moniker.

    But this total disregard for facts when presented from an unsavoury source has reaffirmed that it is really you.

    Yes, we understand you disagree on the facts, but you really need to back that up with facts of your own, not simply stamp your foot.

    I actually did a google of what you said, (more the fool me) and I could not find anything that disputed what TracieofFNQ has said, even from the ABCC’s own site. There were ommissions of detail, to be sure, but when that detail is unpalatable, then that is understandable (not excusable, but understandable)

    And you say that the ‘Mandurah rail link was an example of unions misusing safety to run an entirely different (industrial power) agenda’, the facts do not support this either. The union actually urged the workers back to work on several occassions, which doesn’t lend itself well to your argument (not that that should worry you a great deal, this being just another of those troublesome facts).

    And to think that you started of so well.

  64. Fair enough Tom. The union “recommended” the observance of the orders by the commission to the workforce. The workforce rejected the orders.

    There was a long history of disputation before that, involving unprotected strike action, which (I think) the union (ie officials) was closely involved in.

    I suppose I used the term union somewhat generically, as many do, to refer to workplace representative and union members (as well as the officials). I still think this particular union, particularly in WA, is one that has spoiled the public sentiment towards unionism more generally.

  65. Tom

    You talk of peoples right to withdraw labour if an OH&S problem exists.

    Problem is under enterprise bargaining you cannot strike for any reason unless you are in the approved bargaining period.

    Once you signed an AWA you could not take any form of industrial action for any reason during the term of your AWA.

  66. There was a long history of disputation before that, involving unprotected strike action, which (I think) the union (ie officials) was closely involved in.

    Naturally from an anti-worker position you would see these disputes as being the fault of the workers. Of course the workers see it differently.

    Mal Peters discussed event on the Mandurah project. The Mandurah workers have employers that are difficult in ordinary circumstances, and they have to fight constantly to maintain their rights .

    So whose ‘fault’ it is comes down to whether you support the workers or whether you don’t.

    The fact remains that the ABCC have excessive and draconian powers and the safety and rights of workers have been severly compromised.

  67. Also from the link:

    George Williams, a lecturer in law from UNSW, who has recently expressed interest in running for Parliament, put the Building Industry Improvement Act in context, aptly describing it as “Workchoices on steroids”.

    Under this legislation any worker taking industrial action can be fineed or jailed. Curiously, workers can take industrial action if they have permission to do so in writing from their employer.

    Employers, and the Building Industry Taskforce can interrogate employees and force them to answer questions on pain of six months in jail for failing to answer. (My emphasis)

    (Oh that such powers had been avoilable to the AWB commission and the power to hold politicians responsible for their action or inaction. Clearly paying Saddam Hussein kickbacks is much less a crime than strike action.)

    You cannot get much more anti-worker than this. By including industrial action as sedition the Govt have given employers extraordinary power and left employees exposed.

    The Building Industry Improvement Act AND the Anti-Terrorism laws need to be amended to Maintain the right of workers to strike.

    Limiting the right to strike is tantamount to removing it IMO. The excessive fines and threat of imprisonment for ‘unlawful’ industrial action are a blight on our free and democratic society.

  68. Shane – stopping work on legitimate health and safety ground is not industrial action. It is not a strike. It is the legislated right of any person, as it should be.

    It is a vital right – to be able to withdraw yourself from an environment that represents danger to someone’s safety.

    The confusion sometimes occurs because some unions use this type of stoppage as an industrial tactic. A safety issue may not be the actual reason for a stoppage.

    Tracie, I appreciate that you have an entirely different take on this issue.

    The question of being required to answer questions is complicated, but basically comes down to the code of silence that operates in some organisations. Those that cooperatively answer questions can be intimidate. The compulsion is to provide those willing to cooperate with an excuse that they had to.

    The rationale is well documented in the Royal Commission Report.

    The new IR legislation, tabled today will (despite the fact that unions represent less than 14% of workers in the private sector):

    allow unions to access non-union employee records;
    increase union rights to enter the workplace;
    require union members to have the union as their default bargaining representative;
    allow unions to force employers to disclose confidential business information.
    allow unions to intervene in an agreement even where they have perhaps only a single member.

    No doubt more will follow.

  69. IMO the changes do not go far enough, and will not until both the laws I mentioned have been amended. Industrial action is a right of workers and should not be removed or watered down.

    The changes you mention may suit certain Union leaders but by and large they will not benefit the average worker, at least not until unions get off their backsides and proactively support the workers.

    I don’t see what is ‘complicated’ on the issue of asking questions. Unions and workers face fines and imprisonment for not answering questions. Politicians and execs who have done much worse than strike are allowed to avoid legitmate questioning by having a lapse of memory.

    That union leaders are not making an issue of this only adds to my frustration and confirms my fears that they serve the ALP and NOT the workers.

  70. Ton of Melbourne | November 25, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    The new IR legislation, tabled today will (despite the fact that unions represent less than 14% of workers in the private sector):

    You love bringing this up and as has been pointed out before business unions represent way less than 14% of workers, but have far more say over workers than workers unions ever have. They even managed to draft one of the most draconian pieces of IR legislation ever which caused the downfall of a government.

    Many welfare groups also only represent small parts of the population but manage to get legislation introduced that effects the whole population.

    If something is right for 14% of workers it most likely is right for all of the workers, and if 100% of the workers were given the vote they would most likely vote in favour of many of the things seek or get put into legislation. They certainly don’t spurn the rights and conditions unions have won for all workers whilst only representing a fraction of them.

    So when business management achieves an influence commensurate with their representation as a size of the workforce it will then be fair that unions also achieve a commensurate influence.

  71. Tom

    You cannot stop work for any reason, despite what you say it is illegal under current laws to stop work for health and safety issues. It is still considered industrial action no matter what the reason for withdrawing your labour.

  72. Shane, I can’t get the references to state legislation at the moment. But you’d know, by now that I’m not inclined to suggest an easy path on this issue.

    Workers are entitled to withdraw from any work that represents a risk to their safety. You cannot and should not, do any work that is not safe.

    When an employee decides that they should not perform a job because it is unsafe, this IS NOT industrial action. It IS NOT a strike. It is a right, and it is one that I strongly support.

    When a union official comes onto a construction site and says – ‘There is a dripping tap in the crib room, this is a safety issue and we are stopping work for the rest of the day over it”. This is industrial action, as the dripping tap is not usually a safety issue that requires this stoppage.

    Adrian – that’s a reasonable point. I think there should be a strong safety net for employment wages and conditions. I simply hold that when there is such a minority of employees in unions, the bargaining system should not be so focussed on registered unions. There should be more opportunity for bargaining with the collective workers of an enterprise. The mandated rights of registered unions to intervene in a workplace is a little unreasonable.

    I think there may be problems on some sites, for example where there are mainly members of one of the unions, but there is a small minority in another. I’m not yet sure how this will be dealt with.

  73. Tom

    I do not argue that you support the withdrawal of labour if their task is unsafe. What I am saying to you is that you cannot take industrial action, which is the words for withdrawing labour, for ANY matter outside the legal bargaining period. When I was in the Bank we had a spate of violent robberies and we wanted action but could not take it as we were outside the legal bargaining period. The bank was refusing to put up perspex barriers stating that the conditions were OK. You know what happened? the insurance company advised the Bank if they did not erect barriers in branches then they would not be insured for their monetary losses. Guess what they installed them in all branches over a 6 month period. Money gets action Tom, not workers.

  74. Tom if what you say about state legislation is true then that is fine if you are under a state agreement. If you have a fed agreement you have no right to strike outside the bargaining period on safety or any other issue.

    Striking workers can be treated akin to terrorists under current legislation, with draconian consequences if they do not comply.

    This is unacceptable in a so called egalitarian country. I expected no better of Howard, but the ball is in the ALP’s court now.

  75. Tracie & Shane, safety rights are not part of the industrial process. The concept is simple, though there are always problems in practical application. No one should do work if it is unsafe.

    This has been part of the occupational health legislation since state governments started to show some interest about 20 years ago. I don’t think the Howard IR legislation superseded this. It does not matter whether you are under a state or federal employment system.

    When I get a chance I’ll have a look at the legislation.

    And Shane, I agree that many employers have insufficient regard to safety. The case you suggest is an example of poor management.

    Personally, I’d be very happy to see a campaign on safety and safety activism. I think too many people confused unions/bargaining with legitimate safety issues. Some parts of the construction industry is responsible for this confusion.

  76. Shane

    Any worker can rsfuse do any work he or she feels is unsafe in all state and federal OHS legislation.

    Most OHS legislation also highlights that workers have a duty of care to themselves and others…fairly standard stuff for the last decade…and based on the Common Law concept of duty of care…

    However, many workers don’t know, don’t care, are frightened of losing thier jobs, are under peer pressure to get the work done …etc

    …and unfortunately many employers take advantage of this situation…

    …ultimate duty of care rests with the employer though, to provide a safe system of work, safe plant and equipment, safe workplace and access to it, competent staff and supervion

    Ex consultant/facilitator…

  77. TB

    So why were we told that we could not take any action at the time ?

  78. TB what is your take on the situation of the WA 107 then?

  79. It seems clear from the case of the WA 107 that OH&S issues are NOT protected by law.

  80. Sorry, have guests just arrived will try and post tonight or tomorrow – I have only read the last few posts…

    Tom’s, right OHS and IR are separate issues and treated as such by governments (Workers Comp is also different – based upon no blame).

    Tracie – apologies not familiar with WA 107

    Shane – legally anyone could have refused on safety grounds – nothing to do with the agreement…but how many would have?

    Buggar (in the s#it) gota go back asap!

  81. TB there are links on this thread, or you can read this abridged letter from the construction workers published in Green Weekly.

    Apologies to those who have problems with this particular source but there appear to be no MSM references to the case I can find.

    The Howard Govt gave unprecented powers to the ABCC to prosecute workers, and in conjunction with the anti-terror laws made so called ‘illegal industrial action’ not only a criminal but a terrorist act.

    These anti-worker laws are yet to be repealed by the ALP.

  82. This is an extract from the WA OHS Act (other states territories and Fed are similar) I’m more familiar with Qld than others:

    20. Duties of employees
    (1) An employee shall take reasonable care —
    (a) to ensure his or her own safety and health at work; and
    (b) to avoid adversely affecting the safety or health of any
    other person through any act or omission at work.
    (2) Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), an employee
    contravenes that subsection if the employee —
    (a) fails to comply, so far as the employee is reasonably
    able, with instructions given by the employee’s
    employer for the safety or health of the employee or for
    the safety or health of other persons;
    (b) fails to use such protective clothing and equipment as is
    provided, or provided for, by his or her employer as
    mentioned in section 19(1)(d) in a manner in which he
    or she has been properly instructed to use it;
    (c) misuses or damages any equipment provided in the
    interests of safety or health; or
    (d) fails to report forthwith to the employee’s employer —
    (i) any situation at the workplace that the employee
    has reason to believe could constitute a hazard to
    any person that the employee cannot correct; or
    (ii) any injury or harm to health of which he or she is
    aware that arises in the course of, or in
    connection with, his or her work.
    (3) An employee shall cooperate with the employee’s employer in the carrying out by the employer of the obligations imposed on the employer under this Act.

    The emploer of course has obligations but the use of “so far as practicable” always bothers me – it is a cop out!

    19. Duties of employers
    (1) An employer shall, so far as is practicable, provide and maintain
    a working environment in which the employees of the employer
    Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984
    General provisions relating to occupational safety and health Part III
    (the employees) are not exposed to hazards and in particular, but
    without limiting the generality of the foregoing, an employer
    shall —
    (a) provide and maintain workplaces, plant, and systems of
    work such that, so far as is practicable, the employees
    are not exposed to hazards;
    (b) provide such information, instruction, and training to,
    and supervision of, the employees as is necessary to
    enable them to perform their work in such a manner that
    they are not exposed to hazards;
    (c) consult and cooperate with safety and health
    representatives, if any, and other employees at the
    workplace, regarding occupational safety and health at
    the workplace;
    (d) where it is not practicable to avoid the presence of
    hazards at the workplace, provide the employees with, or
    otherwise provide for the employees to have, such
    adequate personal protective clothing and equipment as
    is practicable to protect them against those hazards,
    without any cost to the employees; and
    (e) make arrangements for ensuring, so far as is practicable,
    that —
    (i) the use, cleaning, maintenance, transportation
    and disposal of plant; and
    (ii) the use, handling, processing, storage,
    transportation and disposal of substances,
    at the workplace is carried out in a manner such that the
    employees are not exposed to hazards.
    (2) In determining the training required to be provided in
    accordance with subsection (1)(b) regard shall be had to the
    functions performed by employees and the capacities in which
    they are employed.

    All this means is that an employer MUST provide:

    a safe system of work
    safe plant and equipment
    safe workplace and access to it
    adequate supervision; and
    proper training
    (This has been established over a couple of hundred years via Common Law and only recently – 1976 in UK and here 1980’s – enshrined in legislation)

    Employees must:

    follow rules
    use PPE
    look after their own safety; and
    look after the safety of their mates

    Easy, hey?

    Tracie, in the case of WA 107 I suspect that use of OHS to bargain may be an issue – all they have to do is call in the officers from the OHS department (division or office ) to provide an opinion and the company must comply with their findings …if the company is in breach they will be fined…(I also know that the building industry laws are draconian and need to be repealed)

    Shane, same thing applies if its a safety issue in Queensland you approach the Division of Workplace Health & Safety and thhey take it from there…the bank would have to comply with their instructions – both issues are quite separate from any IR agreement – unions and companies know this but try and cloud the issue with OHS – often doesn’t help…

  83. Well done TB.

  84. TB & Tom of M…

    It appears there is some dispute about whether or not OH&S is subject the ABCC and BCII Act.

    While its brief is to oversee adherence to industrial law, the ABCC conspicuously fails to investigate or prosecute employers underpaying workers or breaching safety regulations.

    Rather, it targets individual workers involved in union or collective activity not strictly related to EBA negotiations.
    Even if a worker is killed on site, his colleagues must be able to prove they had a reasonable concern about an imminent risk to themselves to legally stop work and assess the safety situation.
    passersby can also be interrogated by the ABCC for witnessing activities on a building site.

    The ABCC should be abolished and the BCII Act repealed. These measures are an affront to workers and human rights. (If you’re reading this Sparta I guess we know whose ‘turn’ it is after the Muslim/Arab/Terrorists).

    This travesty must not be allowed to continue. The ALP should address this immediately.

    But you know what (to quote a certain PM) I don’t think we’ll see this union control (that Tom assures us is coming), rather we will see workers rights further eroded on the back of the financial crisis.

    The opposition is already saying they will oppose some aspects of the IR ‘reforms’ if unemployments rises. Which of course it must.

    It is one thing to say the ‘new’ laws offer better worker protection, but this is useless unless an employee has the power to have them enforced. This is not the case from what I can tell.

    If someone can demonstrate that the opposite is true I am all ears (eyes?)

    As for the unions they appear to be MIA on these issues Tom so you can stop worrying now.

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