The Decline Of Union Membership

Tue, 01 Dec 2015  |  

This article appeared on The Adelaide Review website at this address: 


The Decline Of Union Membership

Trade union membership in Australia continues to fall. This could be linked to the greater casualisation of the labour market, on-going economic prosperity or unrelenting optimism about the economic future, which is seeing workers try their luck with workplace negotiations rather than being part of a union that negotiates on the worker’s behalf.

It is also true that the Australian labour market has seen a strong trend to contracting out of employment and outsourcing of roles, which makes it more difficult for unions to attract and retain members, because of the more disparate nature of these workplace arrangements. These workplace changes are occurring in private sector firms and the government, and do not appear to be ending in the near future.

According to data this week from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, trade union membership fell to just 14 percent of employed people in 2014. This is the lowest rate of unionisation recorded and well down on the late 1990s level, which was a little above 25 percent of employed people.

It is worth pointing out that Coalition governments have actively pursued policies designed to undermine union influence. For the Howard Government it was Work Choices while the current Abbott/Turnbull Government established the politically inspired Royal Commission into unions and is aiming to change the laws to remove union representatives from the boards of superannuation funds.

The decline in the unionisation of the labour market has coincided with a number of telling facts. Wages growth has fallen to the lowest rate in approximately 50 years and the level of industrial disputes has fallen to one of the lowest rates recorded.

In other words, current labour market conditions are characterised by low industrial disputation, low wages and low unionisation.

There are many macroeconomic reasons for the slump in wages growth rather than there necessarily being any specific or direct link to the decline in unionisation. One is the unemployment rate, which is currently running close to a 13-year high. This elevated unemployment rate is a legacy of the growth stagnation that has been in place in the aftermath of the global banking and financial crisis. The economy is also weak now because of the sharp fall in commodity prices and the terms of trade that are seeing unemployment skewed high and wages growth skewed lower. Interestingly, the fall in union membership is not specific to Australia, although the decline in other similar industrialised countries is generally less pronounced.

According to the OECD database, in the last 15 years, the proportion of the workforce unionised in Canada has only fallen by just one percentage point to 27 percent. In New Zealand, the fall has been around three percentage points to 19 percent, while the UK has seen a five-point fall to 25 percent. In the US, the share has dropped by just one point to around 11 percent. Recall that over the same timeframe, the fall in Australia has been 11 percentage points to 14 percent.

Clearly, the decline in Australia has been more extreme than in these similar economies, which suggests that unionisation has some correlation with macroeconomic conditions. Despite the current economic soft patch, there has not been a recession for a quarter of a century and, until last year, Australian per capita incomes were among the highest in the world. Why would you have joined a union when times were so wonderfully good?

In the US, UK, New Zealand and Canada, where there have been dogged recessions, escalating unemployment, real wage declines and severe economic malaise, workers may have taken comfort by maintaining their union membership. In Australia, where until recently it was relatively easy to find a job (recall the skills shortage?) and real wages growth had recorded close to two straight decades of expansion, union membership rates free-fell.

It would be silly and unhelpful to suggest that the Australian union movement’s best hope for membership numbers to consolidate and then grow is a recession and significantly higher unemployment. Rather, unions need to show how their work can benefit members in terms of job security, pay, safety and other workplace conditions. If it can do this, it might be able to arrest the decline in membership rates. If not, unionisation may further fall away to the point where the United States will have a higher share of the workforce in a union than Australia in the near future.

Who would ever have thought that?

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Wed, 29 Jul 2020



Covid19 has opened a door for Australians to positively accept significant changes that will lead to a shared good. This rare opportunity enables us to achieve sustainable economic and social goals that create a new ‘normal’ as our way of life.

These Ten Steps are presented as non-partisan recommendations to the Australian Parliament in the firm belief that, if they embrace them, the Australian economy and society will be greatly enhanced after the Covid19 pandemic has passed.

*A job for you if you want one.
A significant increase in part time and casual employment can be created that will enable you to enjoy a more creative and peaceful lifestyle and to live longer and better. The traditional age at which you would have been expected to retire will become obsolete as a result. An access age for pension and superannuation will become your choice. This will enable you to remain in paid work for as long as you want to, on a basis that you choose, while boosting the productivity and growth of Australia.

*You will get wage increases that will be greater than your cost of living.
A demand for enhanced innovative skills at all levels of employment will be created as the economy grows in strength, thereby enhancing your stature in the workforce and enabling executive salaries and bonuses to drop to levels that are accepted as justifiable by employees, shareholders and customers.

The misplaced objective of the government of delivering a surplus, come hell or high water, has gone up in smoke

Tue, 07 Jan 2020

This article first appeared on the Yahoo Finance web site at this link:   


The misplaced objective of the government of delivering a surplus, come hell or high water, has gone up in smoke

For many people, the cost of the fires is immeasurable. 

Or irrelevant. 

They have lost loved ones, precious possessions, businesses and dreams and for these people, what lies ahead is bleak.

Life has changed forever.

As the fires continue to ravage through huge tracts of land, destroying yet more houses, more property, incinerating livestock herds, hundreds of millions of wildlife, birds and burning millions of hectares of forests, it is important to think about the plans for what lies ahead.

The rebuilding task will be huge.

Several thousands of houses, commercial buildings and infrastructure will require billions of dollars and thousands of workers to rebuild. Then there are the furniture and fittings for these buildings – carpets, fridges, washing machines, clothes, lounges, dining tables, TVs and the like will be purchased to restock.

Then there are the thousands of cars and other machinery and equipment that will need to be replaced.