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Enterprise Unions---The Alternative: Discussant

Wayne Gilbert

I am not a philosopher like Ray and I feel uncomfortable in these semi ecclesiastical conditions, I am a practical hard nosed businessman who has really been involved all of my life in the do-able, I am not driven by philosophy of any sort and I have some difficulties with both the points of view that Vern has put and that of Joe and I think probably for much the same reasons as Ray.

First of all Joe is espousing two things. The single industry union underpinned by a closed shop. The two have to go hand in hand in Joe's proposition.

Vern wasn't quite clear whether he saw the right way to go was a closed shop. I suspect he believes that to be the case. He also didn't draw out as to whether the enterprise union is going to be in addition to craft unions or in substitution, and these are two key issues which need to be addressed.

If enterprise unions are going to get support, we would not wish to see them as part of a closed shop arrangement. Joe may well be right, maybe there are plenty of instances where closed shop, single industry unions work and work well, but if that is the case I would say---lt's for the wrong reasons, it's an accident rather than design of the system. Personally I think it's an affront to individual freedom to be required to join a union to get a job or to hold a job. I think every person ought to have the right not to be or to be in a union. What we need is more choice not less.

It's easy to be critical, but what is the better alternative? There are paths through these various alternatives that can be travelled, I would think that the preferred option is an openness with enterprise unions competing with craft unions with voluntarism, so that there is no underpinning by closed shop and, although somewhat removed from the exact debate on increasing share ownership by employees and share equity ownership arrangements so that the three things together, i.e. a share in the fortunes of the business, enterprise unions and voluntarism can work together and not be in any way exclusive.

My experience is very limited and Vern correctly says that some of the funny things that happened up north can be regarded as a diversion, but everything has its starting point and I give you my personal experiences in a free choice situation, in an organisation of modest size, 2,700 people strong, after four years from being a closed shop to an open shop over 40 per cent have chosen not be in a union, and that is growing at an even 10 per cent p[er annum.

The enterprise union which has been in existence from zero to 15 per cent of the total workforce and is today the largest single union in the establishment. My experience tells me that we do underestimate, as someone said today, the intellect and the capacity of our workers particularly at grass roots level to understand and come to grips with these issues. The other point I want to make is making voluntary unionism work. Voluntary employment agreements, and running a business in a non union situation, or a mixed situation, is much harder to administer, it puts a lot more pressure on the management to deal with the employees because you have to deal with individual people, you can't delegate that right to the shop steward or to the union official or whatever. It is much harder, and Vern says, quite rightly, that the most likely people who, in voluntary agreements, will tend to be the negotiators are the shop stewards but that doesn't say that we should allow that to be. One of the important training needs all of us have is to train people who are not activists to be industrial communicators and not leave it to the activists and the shop stewards. I think it is appalling that whilst TUTA has legitimacy management does not train non aligned people if I can put it way in industrial negotiation. We train them in everything else but how many corporations do you know of conduct in-house training arrangements in negotiating with the workforce? I would say to you it is not done because workforce negotiation is abdicated by management substantially to the shop stewards and the activists.

But if you can get that right, if you can treat with your employees individually, then you are starting to get the business right for the right reasons and the benefit is not just improved industrial relations, it is improved productivity and everything else. Although it is difficult, I say to you it certainly is worthwhile.

I am not surprised that employers' associations have not actively embraced voluntary employment agreements. They have been in business and their business has grown up through the system of interpreting awards and providing advice on awards. It is not in their interests to start promoting things that are anti the club because they are in fact founder members of the club.

I believe that the voluntary agreements should be with the employees and not with the unions whilst Vern is of the view that they should be with the union. In my judgement VEA's should be with the individual employees, they can be negotiated with unions, but if they are to be the bond between capital and labour then the signatory party really need be the individual employee with an enforceable agreement with the individual employer. Another point I would just like to address, arising from Vern's paper, is the difficulty of getting enterprise unions established. Sure, there aren't very many around, very very few, but just about every major employer has a staff association and the jump from staff association into an enterprise union is more in the name than anything else. I have had problems in getting the enterprise union that I am associated with registered as a union. That's a legal problem. A voluntary body of men and women acting together as a union, but not a legal union is very common. All that is required is legal recognition.

I have got here some nice little quotes that don't affect the business that I am involved in---that have been publicised in the local press.

A small brewery has been established in our town by a fellow called Bernie Power to take on the might of Carlton and United and Bond Brewers of the market label XXXX. This brewery is of about 80 employees and the first quote I will give you is that the Managing Director, Malcolm Davies, said

    'All employees had been given the opportunity to be shareholders in the company and were keen to keep inefficiencies to a minimum and improve productivity'---well, that sounds pretty good. 'This was able to be achieved and will provide employment with better conditions and scope for significant career and earnings growth. Together with our employees we have created a productive work ethic which will give Power Brewing a real competitive edge in Queensland and Australia'. Nice stuff!

So an employees' spokesman, of the enterprise association says 'Power Brewery had left it to the workers whether they wanted to negotiate a voluntary agreement pursuant to the award'. Two arms of the proposition I am putting to you are in place. Some days later with a nice photograph:

    'Power Brewing workers met yesterday and declared they were fed up with the Liquor Trades Union campaign against voluntary agreements they have signed. The Union claims that the agreements would increase the weekly hours from 35 to 40, abolish accrued sick leave and a 10 per cent day shift allowance, reduce leave loading from 50 per cent to 17.5 per cent and end christmas bonuses'.

One worker who did not want to be named said 'if we had things so bad how come there are hundreds of applications by workers from other breweries to get jobs here. We were not forced by anyone to agree to the VEA but most of us felt it was in our best interests to do so.' The union says it is trying to protect us, they think we are idiots: Last night the LTU assistant secretary said the union would be continuing its campaign against Power Brewing---drink coasters printed with the slogan 'Sorry Bernie'---(Bernie is Bernie Power)---would be distributed to hotels and union members would be urged not to drink Power Bitter. Mr Hardy said we are not doing this to victimise individual workers.

'This unfair competition against Carlton United and XXXX'.

My Case Rests.