Statistics

Functions of Unions in Modern Australian Industrial Relations

The formal amendments in the formation of industrial relations have also been escorted by dramatic shifts in the organization and operation of trade unions (Hawke and Wooden, 1998, pp. 74-76). Trade union membership has dropped down from around 50 percent of the labor force in the mid of 1970 to 31 percent by 1996. Trade union formations have also altered. Ten years ago there were above 300 different trade unions, most of which were too small and occupational- or craft-based. Today, only some of these small craft-based unions still subsist. Union membership is now focused in a handful of huge industry and multi-industry unions.
Another demonstration of the varying nature of industrial relations arrangement in Australia has been the fall in the rate of trade union membership. The union members symbolized more than half the total labor force during the mid-1970s. Since then, the ratio has fallen by about nineteen percentage points (Bodman, 1996).
Trade union formation has also been put through vast change. To a certain extent in response to the turn down in membership, the trade union group has vigorously followed a policy of incorporations and rationalization (Leigh, 2004, p.174). Australian Bureau of Statistics values specifies that in 1970 there were 347 vigorous trade unions in Australia and by 1990 this figure was changed to 299. Over the succeeding six years, however, this figure fell dramatically and found to be only 132 at 30 June 1996. Moreover, only 46 of these unions were enrolled under the Federal Industrial Relations Reform Act.
Union Reaction to Change
All through this century, the primary objective of trade unions has been quite straightforward, that is, to get improved remuneration and stipulations for its membership. In attaining this objective, the union movement arranges and found support in three major macroeconomic policies – centralized remuneration determination, protectionism and essential mediation, and the White Australia immigration policy – all of which assisted to protect the labor market from the vagaries of the market, and particularly foreign markets. By the end of the twentieth century, however, the union movement emerges to have identified that Australia can no more afford not to consider of itself as a fundamental part of the world economy. To do so will inexorably mean declining living standards corresponding to the rest of the world. This has been echoed in a vigilant shift in policy away from conventional ‘laborism’ towards what has turned out to be known as strategic unionism.

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