No Ticket, No Start---No More!
Single Industry Unions
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
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
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
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
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.