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Growth and Decline in Size and Density of Australian Trade Unionism.

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GROWTH AND DECLINE IN SIZE AND DENSITY OF AUSTRALIAN TRADE UNIONISM Australian trade unionism has seen a general growth in the size and density prior to the 1980s, which from that decade onwards has continually produced a negative membership growth till the present day. Australia started as a convict settlement along with free settlers owning slaves on their property, which set the trend of employment relationship between the employer and employee. The employer had complete power and advantage over the employee. To obtain equality, employees formed trade unions. Thus, up until the 1980s, Australian trade unions have been laying out the basic foundations for workplace employment. Due to recent changes in the Australian economic environment, the trade unions have failed to adjust to these changes and have suffered consequently through its decline in union membership. On 26th January 1788 Australia was officially settled. The majority of the settlers were convicts who were used as workers to develop Australia in which their struggles were a lead up to the birth of unionism in Australia. Some notable instances included were: 1791 - a convicts strike demanding daily issue of rations; 1804 - Castle Hill Rebellion where convicts protested on conditions and rations (ACTU website 387). A clear relationship developed amongst the community whereby the employer had complete authority over the employees. Not only was this seen in the convict settlement but also with free settlers making use of slaves. ...read more.


Little resistance is given by the employees during periods of economic depressions, them knowing that their employers dislike unions and conceding to all negotiations about contracts simply to maintain their jobs is the best option. With human resource management seen as a favourable formation of an organisation's structure in modern times, unions are not endorsed because of the anti-union characteristics of human resource management (Peetz, 1998, 127). This can be seen in the new era of information technology. Many information technology firms ranging from computer related products to the World Wide Web firms and the telecommunication industries all have a human resource management structure where unions representing employees working in these industries have minimal if any representation of unions. Negotiations are most likely to be settled directly between employer and employee. Problems in the workplace are unwanted while prevention is most welcomed. Employers thus cultivate and nurse their employees to maintain a healthy attitude and behaviour. Surveys show that attitude of women; some ethnic groups and white collar employees are less likely to join unions which greatly accounts for a major loss in union membership (ACTU website 158). The key reason for the anti-union attitude is that unions are not providing the goods and services or the atmosphere that employees require. Loss of faith in unions is another factor that is accounted for. However statistics are changing, and in recent times more female representation in unions and union membership has increased. ...read more.


Employees' entitlements under awards were dramatically reduced which severely halted the momentum unions were building up during the period 1983 to 1996 in union membership recruitment. Power was being restored to the employers. Individual contracts offered by an employer could in fact overrule the working conditions set out in an award or enterprise agreement. (ACTU 1999, p 19)Thus, employers could abuse this system by offering lower working conditions and rates to an employee. In 1999, a Second wave of anti-union legislation from the Howard Government. Employees were given more freedom in enterprise bargaining without the help of the Industrial Relations Commission or trade unions. Third wave campaign of anti-union legislation was passed to further stifle unions' power and influence by penalising any employee or union that takes part in industrial action(ACTU website 287). In essence, currently, there are three key issues that the Australian trade unions are devoting their resources into their recruitment drive: dominance and availability in the workplace; membership growth in new trade sectors; and a strong union voice and a clear channel of communication between all four parties: unions, employees, employers and the government (ACTU 1999, p i). Unions are a 'must have' organisation to help those employees that do not have the equal opportunities as employers to negotiate workplace conditions and contracts. But to supersede the previous statement, the changing nature of the organisational structure to a human resource management is much favoured as the relationship between the employer and employee is much closer which matters can be dealt with internally. ...read more.

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