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Unions still have 'crucial role' to play in workplace

26 February, 2014

Australian unions still play a crucial role in monitoring and enforcing employer compliance with labour laws on behalf of workers, new University of Melbourne Law School research has determined.

The study 'Trade Unions and the Enforcement of Minimum Employment Standards' was based on the activities of five prominent Australian unions, and found unions regularly undertook a variety of enforcement-related activities, including: the provision of advice and support to individual workers and union organisers; preparing and delivering education and training to organisers and union delegates; and resolving individual and collective cases of non-compliance by employers with minimum standards through both informal and formal channels.  

"These findings suggest that notwithstanding declining membership and a sometimes hostile legal framework, unions continue to play an important regulatory role in ensuring observance of legal minimum standards by Australian employers," said Associate Professor John Howe, Director of the University's Centre for Employment and Labour Relations Law.

Associate Professor Howe said the study demonstrates unions operate in varied and evolving ways.

"Unions go about their enforcement work and activities in distinctively different ways than they would have twenty years ago," he said

"They've adapted their approaches and strategies to the different economic, legal and workplace environments in which they find themselves operating in.

"The case studies suggest that some unions in particular have developed sophisticated, creative and effective strategies for monitoring and securing compliance with minimum standards that are responsive to the characteristics and dynamics of the industries in which they work."

But the report does make some recommendations for improvement.

"Unions need to increase formalisation of their policies and procedures, redouble efforts to publicise ‘wins' and raise public awareness of the positive role unions play in promoting and securing compliance with minimum labour standards."

Greater opportunities for collaboration and sharing of innovative practices between and within unions, as well as greater scope for strategic planning and reflection on these activities and their value to trade union legitimacy, are also mooted.

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Colin Spencer | Monday, March 3, 2014, 11:01 AM
Unions should have evolved into Australia's biggest employment agencies many years ago. Adversarial behaviour became much less necessary over the past fifty years. Unions could have become a vital instrument in establishing qualifications, skills, and experience of people wanting to enter the workforce, or to relocate to other jobs. Businesses would be able to rely on unions to find the right people, pay for that service, and unions would be able to monitor and influence incomes and conditions. This could all be done in an efficient way that benefits all parties.
anti-union | Monday, March 3, 2014, 11:30 AM
Yeah, unions still have a crucial role to play in prevent businesses from making decent profits by their ridiculous demands (which if aren't met will be replied to with a strike...), and thus prevent them getting ahead, thus making the business lose competitiveness, thus making the business have to close down, then wondering why they are fired and create a huge uproar over the complete injustice of it...
Ken Goldsmith | Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 9:32 AM
Since there was a real need for unions, they have evolved into criminal organisations, involved in variations of stand-over shakedowns, theft from members funds, and other forms of fraud. Without the unions we would have more surviving industry to gainfully employ people, and maybe the country could pay it's way.
Colin Spencer | Tuesday, March 4, 2014, 11:23 AM
anti and Ken, you both have valid points. It is disappointing that in 2014, the union movement hasn't evolved into an organisation which would be an important part of Australia's society. What a waste.
ceirano | Thursday, March 6, 2014, 3:03 PM
Unions have a place in the manufacturing industry. There are some good things that the Unions have been instrumental in placing. BUT they must loose their victim mentality. They MUST realize that the company must be profitable & do all they can to make that happen. Most union members are incapable of the organization that is required in any company. That's why they work for a boss!!!!