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What the Unions Won't Say

The annual Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) HR Summit will take place on 7 and 8 August in Melbourne. I'm fortunate enough to have been invited to take part in a 'panel debate' on the current state of Australia's Fair Work system. Joining me on that panel will be Ged Kearney, the current President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).

While I certainly don't know for sure what Ms Kearney will have to say to the audience, I am fairly confident I know what she won't say…

She won't admit that the continuing decline in both union membership numbers and union density are largely a result of the irrelevancy of trade unions to most workers in contemporary Australia. I think she's also unlikely to acknowledge that widespread union corruption and malpractice have turned-off many hard working Australians.

She won't say that the current Royal Commission into Trade Union behaviour is both necessary and timely. Unions have railed against the Royal Commission since it was promised by the current government, and it's not hard to understand why. The stories that have emerged should shock each and every law-abiding employer and employee.

She won't say that unions should be required to obey the law just like everyone else in our country. And if she does have the courage to demand unions follow the law, she will be at odds with her own former union, the Australian Nurses and Midwifery Federation, which repeatedly defied court rulings to return to work during the last bitter industrial dispute in Victoria.

She won't say that unions scream 'Workchoices! Workchoices!' every time someone raises IR reform as a tactic to avoid meaningful and necessary debate about the difficulties currently faced by employers. 

She won't say that Australia has one of the most hopelessly complex and over-regulated labour markets in the world, and that unions love this complexity because it means they can involve themselves in areas which should be left to the employer and their employees. 

She won't say that the Fair Work Commission is not fit for purpose in its current form, or that it's manifestly unfair that almost all of the Commissioners appointed by the former Labor Government were ex-trade union officials.

And I doubt very much that she will admit that many in the union movement are largely disinterested in the rights of their hard-working members and far more interested in Labor Party politics and securing the safest possible seat at an upcoming election. 

Yes, it will be a very interesting debate indeed.

Author: David Bates BA(Govt), LL.B(Hons), Managing Director

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