03/11/2015 - 05:24

Unions and mergers should not go together

03/11/2015 - 05:24


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Talk of the creation of a mega-union made up by amalgamations is disturbing, to say the least.

PUSH, SHOVE: The CFMEU is one of the nation’s most militant unions. Photo: Grant Currall

Talk of the creation of a mega-union made up by amalgamations is disturbing, to say the least.

Any merger of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the Maritime Union of Australia would create a destructive force that goes against all efforts this nation makes to ensure competition and fairness exists in markets.

Both of these extremely militant organisations have a kind of monopoly in their fields, based on the historic role the union movement has had in Australian society and in influencing government policy.

In the past, it could be argued that workers needed this kind of muscle to fairly represent their views; but, like corporate regulation, society has moved on and people are much more educated about their options and choices in life.

While many workers don’t have union coverage of their industries (or having membership is a genuine choice), there are parts of Australian industry where such an option does not really exist.

Regrettably, some of these industries are strategically important choke points in the economy, such as domestic shipping and some key areas of construction.

If you work in those fields and are opposed to the ideology or militant behaviour of a union or parts of its leadership, you have very little choice about membership. If banks are so bad when we’ve got four major players, imagine what it’s like if you are a seaman stuck with the MUA. If, as happened last year, a reporter can be heavied at a union meeting he was invited to attend, think about what it’s like to be out on the high seas. That’s not a place for people who don’t fit in.

Such lack of choice would be equally painful if a union was corrupt and misused members’ funds. As the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption has uncovered, there are plenty of very public examples, so I won’t need to document them.

My view is that unions have a place in the commercial world as representatives of employees who choose to use their services.

But history shows organisations of any kind have a propensity to abuse power if they have too much of it. We have various anti-corruption bodies to manage governments and public servants; to attempt to manage corporate tendency towards anti-competitive behaviour we have the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. But where is the similar governance of unions?

Only in the building industry did anything go close to overseeing that sector, and the unions involved have done their best to influence its removal.

Restraint of trade concerns apply to employees as much as they do to companies.


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