WHAT DO UNIONS DO WHY DO EMPLOYEES JOIN UNIONS
Union n1 The condition of being united the act of uniting or a conjunction formed by such an act 2 An association alliance or confederation of individuals or groups for a common purpose esp political
Wilkes 1998 pg 1677
When talking of the subject of Industrial Relations the type of union that is most prevalent is that of a trade union This main focus of this essay will be to define what a trade union is outline its main functions and define why employees join trade unions
Conflict is an important word when one thinks of Industrial Relations It can be argued that conflict is everywhere and inevitable in todays society When one looks at workplace conflict it can be broken down On one side there is the employers and on the other side the employees But taking a closer look reveals that there is more than meets the eyes In todays workplace conflict consists of employer s associations employers government employees and unions This essay will focus on the employees side of conflict and more notably the trade unions that the employees join The essay will explain what the trade unions do the benefits the employees get out of trade unions and what the future will hold for unions
Trade unions are associations of workers established to improve their economic and social conditions Funk and Wagnall s 1998 vol 25 pg429 This definition while very basic is in essence the main function of a trade union When looking at the history of trade unions it can be seen to have originated from the economic struggles between workers and employers in the nineteenth century Keeney Kelley 1995 pg 220 This means that employees for quite along time have used the many functions that the unions provide
The first section of this essay will be to provide the basic functions of trade unions Traditionally trade unions have used a variety of means to pursue the interests of their members direct negotiations with employers system of conciliation and arbitration and various kinds of direct industrial action Mitchell Rosewarne 1982 pg188 This essay will explain the following functions selective benefits collective bargaining arbitration legal or political actions
Unions in some industries have been able to take advantage of compulsory enrolment but in many workforces today enrolment in unions is optional Therefore in one workforce a union may speak on behalf of all employees while in other workforce it may speak on behalf of a limited number of employees Mitchell Rosewarne 1982 pg188 When considering a workforce with optional enrolment it can be seen that there will be workers who are not part of the workplace union In this situation the union can take the opportunity to give selective benefits to those workers that are in the union These benefits can be monetary For example a student union may offer discounts to those enrolled They also provide services such as legal aid taxation advice mortuary benefits dental care educational programmes etc These benefits are usually financed directly from union revenue The benefits may also be psychological For example a union member may feel more secure of his job because he is part of a union
Another function that a union provides is that of collective bargaining Collective bargaining is negotiations between employers and employees who are usually represented by a labor union about terms and conditions of employment The bargaining process is concerned with wages working hours fringe benefits job security safety and other matters relating to working conditions Funk and Wagnall s 1998 vol 6 pg420 When looking at the history of collective bargaining in the Australian trade unions it can be traced back to the 1890 s The collective bargaining in the form of negotiations with employers were the principal means by which unions sought to advance the living standards of their members But the weaknesses of the unions and the fragility of collective bargaining were brutally exposed by the strikes of the 1890s Ford Plowman 1983 pg77 Unions clearly recognize that industrial power alone is insufficient to force employers to bargain collectively particularly in times of economic difficulty This is why if one looks at union membership figures they can clearly see that the points where membership is most high is when the economy is suffering
Another key role that unions perform is that of arbitration Arbitration is closely linked with conciliation or collective bargaining The history of arbitration can be seen to be hand in hand with collective bargaining When arbitration was formed the principal objective was to prevent strikes and lockouts Ford Plowman 1983 pg79 In the Arbitration Act of 1904 the Court could exercise its function first as a conciliator then as an arbitrator In the even of arbitration an award would be made which was legally binding and enforceable in the courts Penalties could be exacted for non-compliance Since 1904 there have been many changes to the system The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act has been the subject of many amendments some of which have brought significant alterations to the general structure of the system Ford Plowman 1983 pg79 The development of arbitration has proven to be very important when considering industrial relations
Compulsory collective bargaining and arbitration meant that unions no longer needed to waste their resources on long drawn out strikes as was the case before 1904 This led to unions becoming more necessary as their power increased Nowadays collective bargaining and arbitration is still one of the most important aspects of union
The last function that trade unions do is that of legal or political action Unions represent their employees politically and legally When one thinks of political actions the most common thought would be of strikes Strike nowadays are seen as a last resort when conciliation and then arbitration have failed The most common and notable occurrence of a strike is that of the Waterfront Dispute of 1996 In this case the workers unions as a last resort decided to strike because they felt that they were unfairly dismissed This is one of the political actions that unions do in order for them to reach a likable result for their members There are other forms of political actions that unions also do These include pressuring the government by means of letters campaigns or rallies Governments also rely on unions In times of elections it is obvious that if a political party can get on the good side of a union they will get their votes and therefore increase the chance of getting elected A union will see this and use this in the union s favor by pressuring the party to make favorable policies that benefit the workers of the union
After explaining what the unions actually do the next part of the essay will provide reasons as to why the workers actually join the unions Workers join unions because unions provide economic benefits security company and respect of others understanding of issues that effect the employees and ideological reasons These functions provided by unions seem to be fairly uniform throughout the industries and it must be said are not the only functions provided by unions This essay will now give a more detailed outline of these benefits that the employees get from joining a trade union
The first benefit that will be explained is that of economic benefits It has been previously highlighted that one of the main roles that a union provides is that of selective benefits Getting these benefits is a main reason why the employees join their union
The second benefit is that of security Today finding a job is becoming increasingly difficult and an employee likes to feel that the job the employee has is secure If the employee joins a union the union will be able to provide the employee with this security The union achieves this security by having the power to talk to the employer and being able to provide assistance legal or financial
Company and respect of others is another important aspect A union can be seen as a collective group and in any collective group of workers there will always be people with interests that are alike This means that unions will provide company and in turn this will provide employees with respect for the fellow co-workers
The fourth reason that employees join unions is because unions are seen to understand the plight of their workers In a union the members are made up of the workers and the leader is usually voted by the members therefore the interests of the workers will be understood
The last reason that will be explained is that of ideological reasons This means that since the unions have been supporting the workers for quite a long time there is a certain ideology that they have to join otherwise they will lose their jobs lose benefits etc
After explaining what unions do explaining why employees join union the last part of this essay will be explaining the future of unions When looking at the future of the unions the first thing that must be noted is the downward spiral of union membership
A STATISTICAL SNAPSHOT OF AUSTRALIAN UNIONISM
Union Membership
35 of the total workforce are union members compared with 50 in 1982 and 42 in 1988
Since 1988 membership among labourers plant machinists and drivers and tradespersons has fallen be 10 percentage points in each case
Currently they are
157 unions compared with 188 a year earlier 299 in 1989 and 323 in 1985
29 million financial members of unions compared with a total 3 million members a year earlier
Only 19 of teenage employees belonging to unions and 27 of those aged 20-24
Sources ABS 63210 63220 industrial disputes
These figures clearly show that union membership is decreasing as is the mount of unions David Clarke in his economic briefs of 1996 says It is now dominated by 13 mega unions with membership in the hundreds of thousands and possess millions of dollars in assets Clarke 1996 pg 216 Clarke goes on to say that the reasons for decrease in union membership is because of Structural change causing job declines growth of contracting and self-employment feminisation of the workforce high job mobility rate and inadequacy inside the unions There are also many other reasons why union membership is declining and the ACTU has felt it necessary to step in and stop this downward spiral In 1997 the ACTU spent 40 million dollars on improving managerial roles in trade unions This means that although the membership levels are low the unions themselves will still be a strong figure in the inevitable conflict between employees and employers
WHAT DO UNIONS DO WHY DO EMPLOYEES JOIN UNIONS
Union n1 The condition of being united the act of uniting or a conjunction formed by such an act 2 An association alliance or confederation of individuals or groups for a common purpose esp political
When talking of the subject of Industrial Relations the type of union that is most prevalent is that of a trade union This main focus of this essay will be to define what a trade union is outline its main functions and define why employees join
Conflict is an important word when one thinks of Industrial Relations It can be argued that conflict is everywhere and inevitable in todays society When one looks at workplace conflict it can be broken down On one side there is the employers and on the other side the employees But taking a closer look reveals that there is more than meets the eyes In todays workplace conflict consists of employers associations employers government employees and unions This essay will focus on the employees side of conflict and more notably the that the employees join The essay will explain what the do the benefits the employees get out of and what the future will hold for unions
Trade unions are associations of workers established to improve their economic and social conditions Funk and Wagnalls 1998 vol 25 pg429 This definition while very basic is in essence the main function of a trade union When looking at the history of trade unions it can be seen to have originated from the economic struggles between workers and employers in the nineteenth century Keeney Kelley 1995 pg 220 This means that employees for quite along time have used the many functions that the unions provide

The first section of this essay will be to provide the basic functions of trade unions Traditionally trade unions have used a variety of means to pursue the interests of their members direct negotiations with employers system of conciliation and arbitration and various kinds of direct industrial action Mitchell Rosewarne 1982 pg188 This essay will explain the following functions selective benefits collective bargaining arbitration legal or political actions

Unions in some industries have been able to take advantage of compulsory enrolment but in many workforces today enrolment in unions is optional Therefore in one workforce a union may speak on behalf of all employees while in other workforce it may speak on behalf of a limited number of employees Mitchell Rosewarne 1982 pg188 When considering a workforce with optional enrolment it can be seen that there will be workers who are not part of the workplace union In this situation the union can take the opportunity to give selective benefits to those workers that are in the union These benefits can be monetary For example a student union may offer discounts to those enrolled They also provide services such as legal aid taxation advice mortuary benefits dental care educational programmes etc These benefits are usually financed directly from union revenue The benefits may also be psychological For example a union member may feel more secure of his job because he is part of a union

Another function that a union provides is that of collective bargaining Collective bargaining is negotiations between employers and employees who are usually represented by a labor union about terms and conditions of employment The bargaining process is concerned with wages working hours fringe benefits job security safety and other matters relating to working conditions Funk and Wagnalls 1998 vol 6 pg420 When looking at the history of collective bargaining in the Australian trade unions it can be traced back to the 1890s The collective bargaining in the form of negotiations with employers were the principal means by which unions sought to advance the living standards of their members But the weaknesses of the unions and the fragility of collective bargaining were brutally exposed by the strikes of the 1890s Ford Plowman 1983 pg77 Unions clearly recognize that industrial power alone is insufficient to force employers to bargain collectively particularly in times of economic difficulty This is why if one looks at union membership figures they can clearly see that the points where membership is most high is when the economy is suffering

Another key role that unions perform is that of arbitration Arbitration is closely linked with conciliation or collective bargaining The history of arbitration can be seen to be hand in hand with collective bargaining When arbitration was formed the principal objective was to prevent strikes and lockouts Ford Plowman 1983 pg79 In the Arbitration Act of 1904 the Court could exercise its function first as a conciliator then as an arbitrator In the even of arbitration an award would be made which was legally binding and enforceable in the courts Penalties could be exacted for non-compliance Since 1904 there have been many changes to the system The Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Act has been the subject of many amendments some of which have brought significant alterations to the general structure of the system Ford Plowman 1983 pg79 The development of arbitration has proven to be very important when considering industrial relations

Compulsory collective bargaining and arbitration meant that unions no longer needed to waste their resources on long drawn out strikes as was the case before 1904 This led to unions becoming more necessary as their power increased Nowadays collective bargaining and arbitration is still one of the most important aspects of union

The last function that trade unions do is that of legal or political action Unions represent their employees politically and legally When one thinks of political actions the most common thought would be of strikes Strike nowadays are seen as a last resort when conciliation and then arbitration have failed The most common and notable occurrence of a strike is that of the Waterfront Dispute of 1996 In this case the workers unions as a last resort decided to strike because they felt that they were unfairly dismissed This is one of the political actions that unions do in order for them to reach a likable result for their members There are other forms of political actions that unions also do These include pressuring the government by means of letters campaigns or rallies Governments also rely on unions In times of elections it is obvious that if a political party can get on the good side of a union they will get their votes and therefore increase the chance of getting elected A union will see this and use this in the unions favor by pressuring the party to make favorable policies that benefit the workers of the union

After explaining what the unions actually do the next part of the essay will provide reasons as to why the workers actually join the unions Workers join unions because unions provide economic benefits security company and respect of others understanding of issues that effect the employees and ideological reasons These functions provided by unions seem to be fairly uniform throughout the industries and it must be said are not the only functions provided by unions This essay will now give a more detailed outline of these benefits that the employees get from joining a trade union

The first benefit that will be explained is that of economic benefits It has been previously highlighted that one of the main roles that a union provides is that of selective benefits Getting these benefits is a main reason why the employees join their union

The second benefit is that of security Today finding a job is becoming increasingly difficult and an employee likes to feel that the job the employee has is secure If the employee joins a union the union will be able to provide the employee with this security The union achieves this security by having the power to talk to the employer and being able to provide assistance legal or financial

Company and respect of others is another important aspect A union can be seen as a collective group and in any collective group of workers there will always be people with interests that are alike This means that unions will provide company and in turn this will provide employees with respect for the fellow co-workers

The fourth reason that employees join unions is because unions are seen to understand the plight of their workers In a union the members are made up of the workers and the leader is usually voted by the members therefore the interests of the workers will be understood

The last reason that will be explained is that of ideological reasons This means that since the unions have been supporting the workers for quite a long time there is a certain ideology that they have to join otherwise they will lose their jobs lose benefits etc

After explaining what unions do explaining why employees join union the last part of this essay will be explaining the future of unions When looking at the future of the unions the first thing that must be noted is the downward spiral of union membership

A STATISTICAL SNAPSHOT OF AUSTRALIAN UNIONISM
Union Membership
35 of the total workforce are union members compared with 50 in 1982 and 42 in 1988
Since 1988 membership among labourers plant machinists and drivers and tradespersons has fallen be 10 percentage points in each case
Currently they are
157 unions compared with 188 a year earlier 299 in 1989 and 323 in 1985
29 million financial members of unions compared with a total 3 million members a year earlier
Only 19 of teenage employees belonging to unions and 27 of those aged 20-24
Sources ABS 63210 63220 industrial disputes

These figures clearly show that union membership is decreasing as is the mount of unions David Clarke in his economic briefs of 1996 says It is now dominated by 13 mega unions with membership in the hundreds of thousands and possess millions of dollars in assets Clarke 1996 pg 216 Clarke goes on to say that the reasons for decrease in union membership is because of Structural change causing job declines growth of contracting and self-employment feminisation of the workforce high job mobility rate and inadequacy inside the unions There are also many other reasons why union membership is declining and the ACTU has felt it necessary to step in and stop this downward spiral In 1997 the ACTU spent 40 million dollars on improving managerial roles in trade unions This means that although the membership levels are low the unions themselves will still be a strong figure in the inevitable conflict between employees and employers