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Following the unsuccessful amalgamation attempt by
the Building Workers Industrial Union (BWIU) and the
Federated Engine Drivers' and Firemen's Association
(FEDFA) a number of other unions have made attempts
to amalgamate and in most instances these attempts
have been unsuccessful.
The Storemen and Packers Union has been successful
with its attempt to amalgamate with the Rubber and
Allied Trade Union and is pursuing amalgamation proposals
with other small unions but no successful amalgamations
have taken place between any major unions.
The attempted amalgamation between the Australasian
Society of Engineers (ASE) and the Electrical Trades
Union (ETU) was unsuccessful and the failure of this
amalgamation proposal can have major significance for
the trade union movement generally.
The Federated Ironworkers Association and the Australasian
Society of Engineers are again proposing to amalgamate
and the success of their proposals will have a major
bearing upon the future of both organisations. A number
of years ago, amalgamation proposals between these
two unions failed after a ballot of the membership.
It is most important in our National interests that
this attempt is successful. If it fails, it will enable
the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union to have a stranglehold
upon the whole of Australia's metal industries. It
would also enable that union to recruit forcefully
or otherwise at least 150,000 new members who are currently
non-unionised but working in the metal industry primarily
as white collar workers. This would bring the union
membership to at least 320,000.
There appears to be a reluctance upon unions which
have a large craft membership to amalgamate with a
union whose predominant membership is in the semi-skilled
category. This appeared to be the major barrier to
the proposed amalgamation between the ASE and the ETU
and also to the previous amalgamation proposals between
the ASE and the Federated Ironworkers Association.
Since the failure of the proposed BWIU and FEDFA amalgamation
the ACTU appears to be moving to a preference of what
they term 'A Preferred Union' for a particular industry.
In many ways this is a far more logical approach than
their previous attempts to amalgamate Australia's over
300 unions into 20 mega unions. There has been no positive
statements from the ACTU of course that they now do
not favour mega unions covering a whole broad spectrum
of industries and companies irrespective of occupation
but they appear to be favouring the concept of a preferred
union in each particular industry.
If the amalgamation proposals between the Federated
Ironworkers Association and the ASE is unsuccessful
the principal union for the whole of the metal industries
would then obviously become the Amalgamated Metal Workers
Union (AMWU). The ASE would be in a very difficult
situation and could eventually lose its membership
to the AMWU and the Federated Ironworkers Association
would be largely confined to the steel industry.
One can imagine what the situation would be for Australian
Manufacturing Industry if the AMWU controlled the whole
of our metal industry.
The Vehicle Builders Union (VBU) have had a number
of talks with the AMWU and there is little doubt that
if the AMWU had complete control of the metal industry
in a short space of time the VBU would become part
of the AMWU and then the whole of the Australian Vehicle
Industry, including component part manufacture, would
be under the control of this one union whose militant
and irresponsible activities are well known and well
The left of the trade union movement now has control
of the Vehicle Builders Union in both South Australia
and Victoria where at least 80% of the union membership
are employed and in almost all major plants in these
states the AMWU has considerable membership in the
maintenance areas. There is every reason to believe
that the proposals to amalgamate the semi-skilled membership
of the VBU with the AMWU could be successful with the
assistance of the AMWU members in most vehicle industries
The position of the Federated Ironworkers Union is
most disturbing. This union under the leadership of
its National Secretary, Mr Steve Harrison is the most
logical and stable union in Australia and is paving
the way for the successful future of the Australian
Trade Union Movement. With the introduction of new
legislation and Section 118 of the Industrial Relations
Act the FIA has been able to seek and gain a single
union agreement with a number of companies and enterprises
with the FIA having complete coverage irrespective
of occupation of that company or enterprise.
This has led to a bitter dispute with the AMWU who
have made public statements to the effect that they
will seek to destroy the FIA if they continue to enter
into agreements under Section 118 of the Commonwealth
Industrial Relations Act with enterprises which the
AMWU believe they should cover.
The attitude of the ACTU was disappointing when the
dispute was first brought to their notice. They made
statements to the effect that they did not intend to
intervene and it was only when they realised that the
dispute could lead to a split in the executive of the
ACTU itself, that they appeared to take some interest.
One could be excused for thinking that privately, the
leadership of the ACTU was favouring the AMWU.
The only successful amalgamation proposal is the recent
ballot between the 50,000 member Hospital Employees
Federation No. 1 and 2 Branch and the 30,000 membership
of the Health and Research Union.
This proposal after a ballot of members has been successful
but the disturbing feature of the ballot was that only
22% of the membership even bothered to vote on the
proposed merger. This is very disturbing when it is
considered that a secret ballot was conducted and all
members had the amalgamation proposal posted to their
home with a stamped addressed envelope and it was only
necessary to fill in the ballot paper and post. This
clearly shows some of the apathy which is very evident
in the trade union movement generally and could be
attributed to the compulsory unionism aspect.
If the Vehicle Builders Union were to amalgamate with
the AMWU that union would then cover almost the whole
of Australia's Metal Manufacturing Industry and would
include vehicles, component part manufacture, all forms
of engineering, the building of rail cars and railway
rolling stock and the whole of Australia's metal manufacturing
industries. This could have a very serious effect on
the economic future of Australia.
The plan by Senator Peter Cook, Minister for Industrial
Relations, to force unions to amalgamate by the threat
of legislation which would make it mandatory under
most circumstances for a union to have at least 20,000
members to become registered would certainly assist
the ACTU in its plan for 20 mega unions.
There can be little doubt that Senator Cook would
not be pursuing this line unless he had the full approval
of the ACTU and it is also logical to believe that
this line would not now be pursued if the earlier amalgamation
attempts had been successful. This is little more than
a strong power grab by the ACTU to force union amalgamations
irrespective of the wishes of the members. The only
real winners will be the ACTU who, for practical purposes,
will control the whole of the Australian workforce
whether they are union members or otherwise through
the Award System and the centralised wage system if
the legislation is passed.
It would also have the effect that for practical purposes
future governments would find it almost impossible
to reverse the position and it could destroy forever
any possibility of real attempts to reform Australia's
chaotic industrial relations system. It would also
ensure the continuation of a centralised wage system
which is placing great strain upon the remaining sections
of Australia's manufacturing industry and place us
in an even more uncompetitive position.
The accord and the centralised wage system continue
to widen the gap between Australian Manufacturing Industry
and our overseas competitors. There does not appear
to be a realisation in the leadership of the ACTU that
when Australia had a centralised wage system propped
up by tariffs and quotas we could survive in this cosy
if inefficient situation but with industry facing increasing
competition from a world which does not have such systems
the result has been the virtual collapse of much of
our manufacturing industry.
Germany and Japan are both classic examples of the
need for nations to have a strong manufacturing base.
Both countries have built highly efficient manufacturing
industries which have allowed them to gain world dominance
in so much of the manufacturing sector.
They have not relied upon tourism or the extraction
industries, which Australia is doing, and there is
little doubt that this country has no real future unless
our manufacturing industry can become competitive by
world standards. This will never come about whilst
we have a centralised wage system and an accord with
the Federal Government which is dictated by the ACTU.
Modern industry requires great flexibility both in
labour and management. As an example: some technology
which is highly productive is also very expensive and
needs to be worked continuously to warrant its installation.
Australia's award system militates against its installation
as for practical purposes it is impossible for a union
and an employer to bargain in the area of conditions
which are considered National Standards in all awards.
The Australian Motor Vehicle Industry is a classic
example. At present a tariff of 40% applies to the
importation of passenger motor vehicles and under the
so called 'Button Plan' by 1992 this will fall to 35%.
There are no quotas on the importation of motor vehicles
and the vehicle industry could be decimated. The Ford
Motor Company, which is Australia's most progressive
motor vehicle manufacturer is obviously deeply concerned
about the position of the industry after 1992.
This company has a very fine employee involvement
program and must be given credit for the way it handles
its Industrial Relations, but like the rest of the
industry it is tied in with a national award system
which does not give that flexibility that is required
if it is to compete successfully with the rest of the
A number of Australia's economists continually say
that if tariffs are reduced our industries will become
more efficient but the facts do not bear this out.
What is really occurring is that with an inflexible
centralised wage system and no real scope for enterprise
agreements unless they are imposed on top of the award
structure our industry simply cannot compete and manufacturers
close off their Australian Manufacturing Section, move
offshore and use that part of their enterprise which
is left for distribution in Australia.
Twenty years ago almost 27% of the Australian workforce
were employed in some form of manufacturing industry
and this has now fallen to 16% and will continue to
fall. Obviously some of this decline has been caused
by better methods and modern technology but the overall
reason for the decline has been the decisions of companies
to close down their Australian manufacturing section
and move offshore.
In simple language the ACTU and the Federal Government
are living in cuckoo land if they really believe we
can continue to survive under a system of an 'accord'
which is tied to a centralised wage system with the
ACTU playing a dominant role both with the government
and the Industrial Relations Commission. We ignore
at our peril the decline of our manufacturing base.
We now have an overseas debt of such magnitude that
it is becoming increasingly difficult to even service
the interest and our own deficit for 89-90, was a staggering
$21.16 Billion. Obviously this situation cannot be
allowed to continue.
If the world enters a period of deep recession, our
exports of commodities will decline and the tourist
industry, hailed by the Federal Government as the great
employer and earner of foreign currency will be shattered.
The effects upon employment will be felt nationally
and our whole standard of living will decline.
It is quite elementary that we need a strong manufacturing
base to assist with import replacement and also export.
The NSW Government is attempting to introduce a limited
form of 'Enterprise Bargaining' by legislation. The
Opposition led by the BWIU and the AMWU is bordering
on hysteria with much of the leaflets explaining their
opposition to the legislation either as untrue or seriously
distorted. Their reaction confirms the state of our
Industrial Relations System.
Our whole industrial relations system is in need of
major drastic surgery. This should include the abandoning
of the 'accord', which in the long term has been very
damaging to the Australian worker whom it was supposed
to assist, and a review of the centralised wage system.
Before we can reactivate our manufacturing base we
need to encourage enterprise bargaining which is the
norm in most of the industrialised world and workers
should have a free choice of what union they wish to
We cannot have a sound manufacturing base unless we
have stability, and that stability will be lacking
while we have a system of industrial relations, which,
by its very nature, encourages instability.
The ACTU and Federal Government's amalgamation proposals
will not assist in bringing in the reforms which are
so necessary for our economic wellbeing and may only
make a bad situation worse. Australia's economic future
is dependent upon a complete and meaningful reformation
of our industrial relations system if we are to survive
in an increasingly competitive world.