Unions still have 'crucial role' to play in workplace
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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