Main Reasons Of The Australian Unions Decline

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In 1820 free workers established the first Australian Unions in Sydney and Hobart Succeeding this; by the late 1930s unions had rapidly spread throughout the nation, with 400 unions formed between the years 1850 to 1869. Today there is nearly one hundred unions in Australia, with workers being fully entitled to join a union. Unions are association of laborers and workers who collectively progress to accomplish shared goals and objectives. These objectives include improving compensation, better working conditions, fighting for employer stability and protecting the honesty of exchange or trade (Cosic, 2014).

Authorities and representatives throughout the union work together with the employer to reach enterprise agreements as well as maintain an understanding with their employees. Bargaining consists of negotiation of the arrangement of wages, work rehearses, dispute procedures, recruitment, work benefits, company guidelines, work security and policies. The company agreements negotiated by the union is a binding agreement towards the employer and all employees (The Australian Workers’ Union, 2016).

Australia’s trade union experienced a substantial decline beginning in the early 1990s. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that 40.5 percent of employees aged 15 to 64 years old were Australian union members during 1990. However, throughout the 2000s union members declined dramatically to as little as 24.7 percent; obtaining an overall reduction of 39 percent 2005 (Waddoups, 2005).

Within this paper we will be discussing three prominent reasonings regarding the Australian union decline. A large focus will go towards the change throughout the years; with increased societal education and advances in technology. Furthermore, the inundation of higher skilled workers with enhanced opportunities as well as the growth of casualisation have played key roles in the drastic reduction in union support throughout the decades.

Society throughout the years has changed dramatically with employees no longer deeming it necessary to join a union. This is predominantly due to major advancements in technology and increased availability of online resources. Out of the 6.7 million full time employees during August 2018; only 1.1 million Australian workers announced that they were apart of a union (McCauley, 2018). Gilfillan & McGann (2018) found that younger employees are considerably less prone to be union members than older employees. Thirteen percent of employees aged 25 to 44 years and 19 percent of employees aged 45 to 64 years are current members of trade unions (Palmer, 1990). However, young employees aged 15 to 24 years, make up as little as six percent of the trade unions. This is believed to be due to youngsters reduced exposure and awareness around union propaganda (Palmer, 1990).

With the increasing number and availability of online resources such as; employee entitlements, pay, leave, awards, resignation and agreements; employees today are less inclined to join trade unions. As books, websites, pamphlets and other resources have become more widely accessible to employees today; it is now faster and easier for employees to understand and know their rights. Following the introduction of the ‘Fair Work’ organisation in 2009, all information regarding an individuals rights and rules is now available at the tip of their fingertips. Fair work have created a free online platform that is easy to navigate and employees can even contact fair work directly for no additional charge.

Employees can speak to a professional regarding any questions or concerns that may arise concerning their rights or even providing assistance with determining illegal action. Provided that today’s society has become highly driven by social media, young employees are now at the forefront of union reviews and __. This has enabled young employees to pinpoint areas of corruption within unions such as union officials facing million dollar fines along with jail time due to corrupt payment systems (Patty, 2017). This previously would have gone unnoticed due to the lack or resources and broadcasting. Thus, young workers today can now decide for themselves whether they would like to be part of a union, compared to the previous societal pressures that wheedled workers into unions.

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Additionally, the decline of trade unions within Australia is due to increased employee qualifications which has resulted in individuals deeming unions no longer necessary. Highly skilled employees such as construction managers or electricians may obtain additional employment opportunities; thereby resulting in an increased income. In comparison, employees with decreased skill may be presented with reduced employee opportunities; consequently witnessing their wages decline or terminate.

Despite this, workers who were apart of a union during the 1930s, earnt roughly 15-20% more money than educated works; due to the strong bargaining power of their society. Independent workers with a higher education were occasionally receiving lower wages due to a low bargaining power (Kopf, 2019). However, the decline in unions associated with technological change today has escalated bargaining power to highly accomplished workers. This means that individuals will be less inclined to join lower-expertise laborers, which previously constituted the main body of union support (Meyer 2017). Rather than unions establishing and organising workers entitlements; educated employees have begun creating their own bargaining power. With readily available online resources, workers are now capable of creating their own personalised work benefits.

The U.S. Bureau of the Census (2019) has been actively tracking worldwide wages and education since the 1940s and have reported a dramatic increase in education and industry performance throughout the decades. Since unions begun; lower-skilled workers such as tradesmen have been the major contributor and target. The US analysis demonstrates that growth in educational development within the workforce, as well as unions becoming less comparable and successful in coordinating lower skilled workers; are some of the main reasons for the observed decline.

Within the workforce, employees have strived for higher education than earlier decades in which the unions were initially introduced. A decline in the number of unions amongst the labor market, alongside an increase in skill level of current union employees; has meant that the prominent equalising effect of unions on the income distribution that was previously observed in the middle of the 20th century has declined substantially (Economist’s View, 2018).

A final contributing factor towards the depreciation of Australian trade unions is employment casualisation. Parliament of Australia (2018) mentioned that there was just under 2.5 million casual employees without access to leave entitlements during August 2016. These employees which are contracted on a casual basis are not entitled to sick leave or annual leave throughout the year. Decreased union membership is prominent amongst youth and young adults as they are more likely to be working in a part time or casual industry. Up to twenty three percent of the reduction in union support is directly correlated to the growth in part-time employment (Bodman,1998). This suggests that there is a strong relationship between part-time employment and both short term and a negative long-term union membership. The Australian Bureau of Statistics identified that 57 percent of individuals aged between 15 to 24 years; 25 percent of 25 to 44 years old and 29 percent of 45 to 64 year olds work part time.

Furthermore, 55 percent of employees aged 15 to 24 years were casual representatives; compared to 25 to 44 year olds and 45 to 64 years, representing 19 and 17 percent of the casual industry respectively. This indicates that the union decline is due to the increase in casual and part time employees, which provides less opportunities for such employees to afford the increasing membership costs. Union membership costs roughly ten dollars per week, equating to roughly $400 a year. However, depending on your union, income and the amount of hours worked each week; union costs can vary substantially. Thus, under such conditions, casual employees may not be able to afford union membership as they lack set contracted hours. This disables them from being financially able to afford union costs; compared to full time employees that have a higher disposable income. Consequently casual employees are less inclined to sign up to a union (McManus, 2019).

Union enrolment has steadily declined as a result of the shift in the Australian economy over the last four decades. Extensive structural factors have influenced the reduction in Australian union membership such as the increased awareness and knowledge exhibited by young trade employees, that possess advanced technological understanding. With the introduction of Fair work and the inflation in higher education, employees today are more qualified enabling enhanced job opportunities. Furthermore, the inflation in casualisation within the trade industry has markedly reduced union support to. Together, such factors have created the huge decline in union support over the past four decades, which has making them less relevant for our future.

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