No Ticket, No Start---No More!

Single Industry Unions

Joe Thompson

Australia is in an economic mess of great magnitude; unless firm and positive steps are taken, the future looks very bleak indeed.

Paul Keating's statement to the effect that we are fast becoming a 'banana republic' is not only true but in many ways an understatement of the real position.

One area in drastic need of major surgery is our system of industrial relations. Without a doubt, we have the most self-destructive system n the free world---more destructive even than Great Britain, which is now in the process of ridding itself of many of the restrictive practices which led to the extinction of so much of its manufacturing industry.

Initially, the establishment in Australia of a legal-type court system, to set minimum or award rates, did have overall beneficial effect , and was, in that time, in the national interest. We were spared much of the excesses of serious labour disputes, which in many countries, particularly the United States, led to bloodshed and violence to a degree never experienced here.

However, Australia's conciliation and arbitration systems at both State and Federal levels are now no longer working in our best interests and are the cause of many of our economic problems.

We are now on the verge of a major national wage blow-out, the effects of which will ultimately be felt by the whole community and cause further damage to our fragile economy. This in turn will lead to further government economic restraint, with most of the hardship being placed on those in the community least able to manage.

To put it simply, the so-called benefits of the Accord have been little more than a mirage and have actually worsened our economy in the longer term. In the short term, the major winners of the Accord have not been the ordinary trade unionists but the employers; and in the longer term, neither employer nor employee has really gained.

With the collapse of the Accord imminent, we obviously cannot continue to rely upon a system of industrial relations which has failed.

The time has arrived for moving away from compulsory arbitration to a system of direct negotiations with employers at industry or enterprise level, with a single union having complete coverage and negotiating exclusively on behalf of those employed in that industry---in other words, a single industry union.

This would enable agreements to be made between parties which would apply only to that industry or enterprise; flow-ons to other sections of the economy should not occur.

This would mean that there would be no lowest common denominator of remuneration as we now have in Australia; industries or individual enterprises would, depending on economic or other circumstances, have varying pay rates and other conditions.

With a single union having complete coverage of an enterprise or industry, it would be in that union's interest to ensure that the enterprise prospered, as this would lead to stability and greater rewards in the future.

Incorporated in a legally binding contract between union and company should be a no strike/no lockout clause and , most important, an agreed method of settling disputes during the life of the contract.

This industrial relations system has been in operation in both the United States and Canada for many years and is snow rapidly spreading to the United Kingdom.

Take the latter country, for instance. While the Electrical Trades Union has been expelled from the Trade Union council for entering into an agreement for one-union coverage of a major section of the British newspaper industry, a number of other unions have also singed single industry agreements, most of which include some type of no-strike clause.

The pressure to enter into single industry union agreements in Great Britain has become so strong that the TUC now requires a union to advise it before entering into such a contract.

There can be little doubt that, irrespective of the attitude of the TUC, it is only a matter of time before a system evolves, of which the cornerstone will be a single industry union negotiating for the whole business.

Returning to Australia, the instability and irresponsibility of much of our trade union movement cannot be allowed to continue, particularly as we are now no longer insulated from the rest of the world.

A typical example of the irresponsibility of some sections of our trade unions can be found in the recent strike at CSR in Victoria.

Four major unions and a number of smaller ones served a wage demand upon CSR, and the dispute which followed had serious national consequences for our confectionery and food processing industries.

That a company employing less than 400 people in its sugar-processing plant would have at least seven unions, highlights the need for an industrial relations system of single industry unions.

The majority of unions in the CSR dispute were in maintenance, with no real interest in the sugar industry.

If the factory was to close permanently, the members of these unions would, as maintenance tradesmen, have little difficulty gaining another position and the effect of their respective unions would be negligible.

Attempts to protect sugar supplies led the Federal Government to lift a long-standing embargo on the import of sugar; this, in turn, was criticised by the Queensland Government which was concerned that it could lead to problems for that State's sugar industry.

The combined unions at CSR treated the Arbitration Commission with contempt and defied its orders, particularly in relation to picketing, and it was only the threat of civil action which really led to the settlement of the dispute.

The CSR dispute is a classic example of the type of industrial anarchy which crippled so much of British industry in the past, and the reason why many British companies are demanding and getting single industry unions with a contract of employment.

Britain is now coming into line and adopting an industrial relations system comparable to most other nations in the free world. It is vital that we revitalise our manufacturing industry to ensure that extraction and allied industries can compete on international markets. Our current reliance on rural industries to earn export income is extremely dangerous. A major national drought, which occurs with monotonous regularity, would be extremely serious at this time in view of our disastrous balance of trade figures.

Put simply, we allow our present chaotic industrial relations system to continue at our peril.

Finally will union amalgamations assist in bringing some stability to our industries? The answer is a very positive NO! There is little doubt that such amalgamations will worsen the position and lead to better and bigger industrial disputes.

The proposals are for amalgamations across the whole broad spectrum of industry which would defeat the concept of single industry unions. Imagine what would happen with an amalgamation between the Storemen and Packers Union and the Transport Workers Union. This super union would have an interest in almost every enterprise in the nation and could bring Australia to its knees, with little more than a telephone call.

Existing amalgamation proposals feature a number cf similar propositions and must be viewed wit h grave concern. No doubt the ACTU would become stronger than ever, but there is little doubt that, in our national interests, amalgamations would be disastrous. Australia's future lies in having a responsible system of industrial relations based on a single industry union concept and a freely negotiated contract of employment between employer and union.

Why HR Nicholls?

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