No Ticket, No Start---No More!
The theme for this conference is taken from signs
that guard entry to most of the major building sites
in our capital cities.
The message is open and brazen. It tells the world
that regardless of a man's skill and regardless of
his talent, he is not allowed to work on that site
until he has paid for a union ticket.
Although the requirement is imposed in the name of
the owner it is not done at his insistence. It is done
at the insistence of those who issue the tickets, collect
the fees, derive the economic benefit and provide the
practical enforcement---in this case the building trade
The building industry is not unique in this respect.
We could focus just as easily on the metal industry,
transport industry or oil industry. Indeed, in any
industry where there is significant capital investment
you will find potential for unions to extract a ransom.
One of the first demands is always the closed shop.
Over recent years there have even been attempts to
enforce a closed shop for journalists. You will recall
how the Government attempted to exclude non-AJA members
from a recent Budget lockup, and how the ALP announced
that only AJA ticket holders would be accredited to
the 1988 ALP Hobart Conference. The attempt was poorly
organised and easily thwarted. Even some of our journalists
dug in their heels over the matter. Robert Haupt published
an open letter to the ALP National Secretary telling
him why he wouldn't show his ticket. According to Haupt
if this went on the next thing that would happen would
be that an H R Nicholls government would insist on
only non-unionists coming to its councils!
I see we have some journalists attending this conference
over the weekend. I doubt if they will be asked for
a non-ticket show and, for my part, I don't care whether
they do or don't have tickets. I must say, however,
that I am highly delighted that over the weekend some
current and former union officials will be giving papers.
But I return to the building industry. The practice
of 'no ticket no start' has now become highly institutionalised
and no more so than in Victoria. The rules governing
it have been summarised in the little green book. It
is---if you like the Nicene Creed of the building industry.
What the green book says is this.
When a person seeks employment an employer must ask
him for his current financial clear card and tell him
to produce it before starting work. If a union official
finds a person on site who cannot produce such a card,
the man must be sent off the site for 24 hours, or
until he can produce one whichever is the later. All
members of the union to which the person without the
card should belong are entitled to stop work generally
for 24 hours, because a non-ticket holder has been
on site. They are then entitled to full pay for the
stop work, unless the employer can prove to the satisfaction
of the union he was deceived by a false, forged or
Some of you may think this is a rather draconian procedure.
But this is an improvement on the situation which prevailed
prior to 1987. These are considered benign provisions
in the building industry. A builder only gets the benefit
of these provisions if he pays redundancy pay to his
employees at the rate of $20 per week per employee!
In exchange for paying this money he obtains the benefit
of this procedure. This is what is known as 'an efficiency
improvement' under the Arbitration Commission's Restructuring
and Efficiency Principles.
Where these 'beneficial' procedures do not apply things
are far less institutionalised and civilised. Let me
tell you about the experience of Mr Daryl Morley and
his partner, Mr Michael Nott.
In December 1986, Mr Morley and Mr Nott were partners
in a project to build the first cinema in the Victorian
country town of Sale. They contracted out all the work
and they acted as project managers on the site.
The local organisers of the Building Workers' Industrial
Union approached Mr Morley and asked him whether he,
(Mr Morley), was a member of a trade union. He said
he wasn't. They asked him whether Mr Nott was. Mr Nott
was not a member either. Mr Morley was then informed
that under BWIU rules only one person who was not a
union member was permitted on site---the Project Manager.
Mr Morley explained that they had two Project Managers.
This did not convince the organiser. He said only one
person was allowed not to be a union member, and unless
either Mr Morley or his partner joined the union, the
site would be declared 'black'.
Mr Morley protested about this. He and Mr Nott owned
the land and it was his view that he was entitled to
enter his own land whether he paid for a union ticket
or not. The organiser explained to him that this was
not the way things worked in the building industry---whether he owned the land or not he could only be
present while building work was going on if either
he was a union member or his partner was a union member.
The organisers declared the site 'black' and all work
ceased. This threw Mr Morley and his partner into
a financial quandary.
Their choice was either to pay a $74 six-monthly union
membership fee for the privilege of working on their
own land, or to face the crippling financial cost of
having their site closed and the Christmas cinema season
Builders are commonly confronted with a similar financial
Let us consider this situation from the point of view
of those involved.
The builder is the hostage. On a small CBD development
a builder may have finance costs of $200 million.
Interest on those costs may run at about $100,000
per day. If an individual tradesman refuses to pay
a $150 union fee, that man can cost the builder---in
finance costs alone---$100,000. To him, the individual
is a troublesome and quirksome inconvenience.
He is the victim. He has to pay the money to purchase
the right to work. If, for some reason, he doesn't
want to do so, he becomes entirely expendable.
It is the beneficiary. Its co-operation is bought
by the builder who secures a membership fee for it
from the tradesman. But it is not so much the money
that the union is interested in. With every ticket
it issues it gets control over another worker. A worker
who breaches union rules is liable to expulsion. A
worker expelled from a union is unemployable on the
building site. This provides a powerful incentive to
stay onside with the union. Whilst the union retains
control over the worker's livelihood, it retains control
over him. Whilst the union retains control over him,
it retains control over the builder. Power and control
flow round the circle.
But there is another player in this whole arrangement.
That is the government. The government is neither builder
nor union. Why does it become a party to this agreement?
Questions of power and control are very dear to the
heart of government. It likes to see industry running
smoothly, with everyone in his proper place. But why
should a government wish to deliver such power and
control to unions? The unions themselves could become
centres of power threatening the government itself.
I cannot develop this theme at length in this speech,
but I think what we are seeing in Australia today is
power sharing arrangement between government and union
officials. Union leaders are being given wide power
in government decision making. In return these leaders
give government wide power in decision implementation.
First of all, they do not use their resources to frustrate
government policy. Secondly, they become internal policemen,
locking in and disciplining those under their control.
This is enormously useful to the government. It doesn't
have to sell policies to ordinary workers whilst it
has a quasi police force of union officials doing that
for it, making sure that the workforce does not grow
restive and making sure they implement the joint government-union
Thus, the true corporatist nature of the arrangement
is revealed. Those sitting at the top of the tree share
decision-making power and then go back to those placed
in control under them to enforce and implement the
But I digress.
On the building site we therefore have the hostage,
the victim, and the beneficiary. The hostage buys the
co-operation of the beneficiary by delivering over
to it and control over the victim. If we stop there
we might ask ourselves what is the difference between
this arrangement on Australian building sites and protection
rackets as operated in New York.
The most obvious difference to me is that those profiting
in Australia do not speak with a Bronx accent! Few
Australians would immediately think of the extraordinary
similarity between this kind of practice and an ordinary
protection racket. This is because once the name 'union'
is put on anything in Australia it is perceived differently,
and public tolerance rises remarkably.
One of the first groups to recognise this was an organised
element in Melbourne which ran an organisation called
'The Ship Painters' and Dockers' Union' in the 1970s.
They couldn't believe their luck that ordinary criminal
activity that would otherwise put them behind bars
for years became quite respectable once it was done
in the name of the trade union. So handsome was the
prize of controlling this union that a war broke out
in the underworld to get control of it.
The mistake made by those running The Ship Painters'
and Dockers' Union was that they got too greedy. They
began a practice called 'ghosting' which extorted multiple
wage packets for the same person under different names.
They should have stuck with extorting only the one
wage packet with multiple payments inside it.
A Royal Commission was set up to enquire into the
Painters' & Dockers' Union. This commission became
known as 'The Costigan Commission' and finished uncovering
the whole gamut of criminal activity, including tax
evasion, killing and the rest.
Some may say an important difference between a protection
racket and an 'industrial reality' is that the methods
used in an 'industrial reality' are more subtle. The
threats to the victim are not physical so much as economic.
A subtle threat does not make extortion and blackmail
any the less. the law has never regarded extortion
and blackmail as being limited to physical threats
only. Under Section 87 of the Victorian Crimes Act
1958 blackmail is defined as follows:
'87. (1) A person is guilty of blackmail if, with
a view to gain for himself or another or with intent
to cause loss to another, he makes any unwarranted
demand with menaces; and for this purpose a demand
with menaces is unwarranted unless the person making
it does so in the belief:
(a) that he has reasonable grounds for making the
(b) that the use of the menaces is proper means
of reinforcing the demand.
(2) The nature of the act or omission demanded is
immaterial, and it is also immaterial whether the menaces
relate to action to be taken by the person making the
(3) A person guilty of blackmail is guilty of an
indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for a
term not exceeding fourteen years.'
There is little doubt that on the building site a
union organiser with a view to gain for himself or
another (the union) makes demands (the closed shop)
with menaces (or we'll close your site down). The
menaces do not have to be physical. The only question
as to whether the crime would be made out is whether
the demand is unwarranted. A demand is unwarranted
unless the person making it believes he has reasonable
grounds for making it, and that the promised menaces
are proper means of reinforcing the demand.
In a trial for blackmail the arbiter of whether a
person had reasonable grounds for making the demand
would be the jury---12 men good and true. It is here
that community standards would apply. This is a nice
legal teaser which invites us to ask whether, according
to community standards, the demand that each and every
person entering a building site purchase a union ticket,
is a reasonable one. The question is one of manners
and morals. I address it with not inconsiderable trepidation,
seeing, as I do, the of great theological learning
before me. In situations like this I am fond of quoting
'I know what's legal, not what's right, and I'll stick
to what's legal'.
I take my first refuge in statistics.
Do Australians consider the demand for a closed shop
1. Roy Morgan Research Centre
Data collected by the Roy Morgan Research Centre between
1942 and 1986 on the question: 'Should membership of
trade unions be compulsory or voluntary?' discloses
Public support for voluntary unionism has consistently
increased between 1942 and 1986.
77% of trade union members in 1986 thought union membership
should be voluntary. In the light of these figures
we may ask from where does the mandate for the closed
2. International Standards
Australia is party to various international covenants
by which it proclaims to the world fundamental inalienable
human rights it is determined to uphold.
Such rights are contained in the UN Declaration on
Human Rights 1948, Article 20:
'Every one has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly
and association. No one may be compelled to belong
to an association.'
Similar sentiments are expressed in Article 22 of
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Bills of Rights which have been proposed by the
Hawke Government would all rest, constitutionally,
on these international covenants. Strangely enough,
our Bills of Rights have not included the right of
freedom of association. This is a right habitually
abused in modern Australia. Its omission from prepared
Bills of Rights is very significant and I cannot believe
it was other than deliberate.
3. On what basis do those who justify it consider it
Recently I was speaking at a Graduate Seminar at Melbourne
University, when I was castigated by a union official
who maintained that by defending the rights of workers
not to join unions I was doing no more than defending
scabs and parasites. You will agree the mixed metaphor
of scabs and parasites conjures up truly a ghastly
The argument is that only a parasite would derive
benefit from a union without paying for it. An after-dinner
speech is not the time for a detailed discussion on
these sorts of images.
I will answer this point, however, by taking another
example. I compare the trade union movement with the
RSL although I confess this is not an analogy which
immediately commends itself.
Over the years the RSL has done a lot of work to obtain
and improve benefits payable to servicemen. It has
a colourful leadership.
The benefits it secures are available to all ex-servicemen,
not just RSL members, and some ex-servicemen derive
their sole income from these benefits. Could it not
be said that all those ex-servicemen who benefit from
the work of the RSL should have to join it and pay
Not so long ago the Vicar of St John's Anglican Church
in Toorak resigned from the League. The resignation
occurred with some fanfare because he resigned in protest
about the actions of the colourful Mr Bruce Ruxton.
Even though he resigned from the RSL, I believe the
Vicar is still entitled to the benefit of any increases
in ex-servicemen's benefits that might be awarded in
the future, or might be awarded because of the League's
Yet I did not hear any one call the Vicar a scab or
a parasite. All I heard was much commendation for a
courageous stand on a matter of principle.
I doubt whether even Mr Ruxton would deny the Vicar
his right to make a protest in this way. Yet many deny
the right to ordinary men and women to make a protest
about leadership they find equally galling, and having
denied them that right enforce it with an iron rod
by putting them out of work.
Freedom is such a frightening thing for many people.
Some say if you let ordinary workers exercise freedom
there will be mass union resignations, and the world
will stop tomorrow.
I do not think so. I think those unions which do a
good job will attract members on their merits. Why
is this issue important?
Some say people should not kick up a fuss about this
issue, they say there is only a small number of malcontents
and their rights are not important enough to stand
in the way of the collective interests of other faithful
Let me tell you about a man who lives in Melbourne.
His name is Mr Frank Marett. Mr Marett has been a member
of the Amalgamated Metal Workers' Union for most of
his working life. He was employed by a multi national
owned oil company in Victoria, for about 12 years until
1986. He is a man of strong religious convictions.
In 1985 men working at the oil refinery decided to
strike a levy for the purposes of supporting the campaign
of the Electrical Trades' Union against the South-East
Queensland Electricity Board. The levy was $10 per
When Mr Marett was asked to pay the levy, he asked
for a receipt so he could ascertain where the money
was going. Those collecting the levy refused to issue
receipts. Mr Marett was told various stories about
where the money would go, and on one occasion he was
told it would support the families of those on strike.
Mr Marett took the view that welfare was a matter for
the Church, a God-given responsibility that he was
obliged to support by giving 10% of his income to the
Church to which he belonged. 10% of his income was
considerably more than $10 per week. He also had heard
that the money might be used to try to bring down the
Queensland Government. He believed that all lawful
authority was given by God, and governments should
not be brought down except through the lawful process
of the ballot box. Consequently, he refused to pay
The matter was taken up with the management by his
fellow unionists. The management concluded that there
was the possibility that industrial action would occur
if Mr Marett continued to work in the factory.
If such action occurred the company could lose $2
million. So the company removed Mr Marett from the
workplace. They told him to sit in an aluminium hut
approximately 8 feet by 12 feet. There was no furniture
in the hut, but Mr Marett was allowed to bring in a
chair to sit on. He was not given any work and he was
given no desk to work on. He had no telephone. He was
told he should not leave the hut except for meal breaks.
Employees were told not to speak to him. Mr Marett
was left in that hut for over 41Ú2 months, except for
a five-week period when he was given work off the factory
floor, because he refused to pay the levy. After 41Ú2
months the company dismissed him. Mr Marett's wife
had recently given birth to their sixth child. When
he was dismissed the family lost its sole bread winner.
This is a summary of facts which were found by the
Equal Opportunity Board of Victoria. The company felt
it was a hostage in the situation. On the one hand
it had the possibility of a $2 million loss. On the
other hand it had the troublesome Mr Marett. The company
conceded it did not think of the third alternative---to convince unionists in the plant not to insist
on extracting the payment from Mr Marett. Towards the
end of his sojourn in what can probably be described
as 'solitary confinement', someone offered to pay the
money on Mr Marett's behalf. This offer was rejected.
Those collecting the levy insisted that the money must
be seen coming from the hands of Mr Marett himself.
From Mr Marett's point of view the issue was a matter
of religious principle. From the unionists' point of
view the issue was a question of power. From the company's
point of view the issue was a question of expedience.
It was expedient that one man should suffer for the
good of many others. You will recall that this was
the justification given for the death sentence imposed
St John's Gospel, Chapter XVIII Verse 14:
Since the foundation of Christendom, there has been
a revulsion to that principle; a revulsion that has
underpinned the system of British justice. The basis
of our legal system is founded on the moral premise
that it is better for ten guilty men to go free than
for one innocent man to suffer. As a result, we quite
rightly insist on hedging the criminal process around
with all sorts of civil liberties which offenders might
take advantage of, but from which the innocent take
If we were to look at such matters in purely numerical
terms, the good of the majority might occasionally
be served by punishing an isolated innocent or two.
But this is repugnant to our system of law and public
Our society does not tolerate suppressing the basic
human rights of an individual in order to accommodate
collective interests. We realise that once one man's
individual rights are compromised the freedom of all
others is compromised too.
This is why we should not tolerate the abuse of civil
rights in the workplace in the all so-brazen proclamation
'no ticket no start'. It proclaims an abuse that should
not be tolerated, and it plants a seed that permeates
and corrupts our industrial system in so many other
ways. It indicates that we have compromised an important
civil right at the behest of powerful collective interests.
The former editor of the New Statesman, Paul
Johnson, resigned from the British Labour Party because
he perceived it had drifted into the ideology of collectivism.
In an article entitled,
'Farewell to the Labour Party' he wrote:
'... in a system of belief where conscience is collectivised
there is no dependable barrier along the highway which
ultimately may lead to Auschwitz and Gulag. I do not
intend to travel even one miserable inch along that
Nor do I.