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I have been asked to inform you, a secretary at Cooper & Courtney Solicitors about union membership. Throughout the report I will be examining the nature of unions (what they are, who can join and how they work), I will also examine and evaluate the responses from your work colleagues and make a recommendation as to whether or not you should join a union. Trade Unions originally formed for the purpose of protecting the rights of employees. In addition, today they provide support for individual employees who find themselves in a conflict situation or any other difficulty.

They aim to protect and advance the economic, social and political interest of their member. Union membership is a legal right that is open to all workers and it is against the law (both Federal and State) to avert an employee from joining a union. It is also against the law to force an employee to join a union. On of your colleagues state that “unions and unionists in Australia are troublemakers. ” We are made to believe that unionists are troublemakers due to the way in which the media portrays them.

It is portrayed in a negative way as they are inconveniencing people and the public are being brainwashed. They are made to believe that unionists really are troublemakers; they never do good things, instead they choose to do bad things. Trade unions represent the employee. Their main goals are to better wages, working conditions and ensure that they have a meaningful job. They are there to help you participate in decisions that you want to make. When considering joining a union you should take into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of being a member.

The advantages of union membership is Collective Bargaining Power, you are given legal advice on workplace issues, you get councilling services, membership discount and also associated services. The disadvantages on the other hand is that you have loss of individual control over a situation, you loose a certain amount of income due to strikes and financial costs need to be contemplated, which is usually several hundred dollars although it is tax deductible. Each year you pay a certain amount of money to belong to a union.

This can be done either by taking out a certain percent of your salary each year or by paying it as a cheque before the payment is due. Even though you have to pay a certain amount of money to obtain a union it doesn’t mean that it’s a waste of time and money. You need to be prepared to fork out approximately $300 a year because being a member of a union is worthwhile. Members who belong to unions benefit as working conditions can improve for all employees who are union members.

Unions first started way back in England in the gold rush of the 1850’s when the discovery of other minerals and the pastoral industry of the 1880’s resulted in a population explosion. This brought the need for homes, offices, factories and the extension of roads and railways. These facilities were not under penal rule so the attitude of the government had to change. Many of the migrants worked very long hours, in very poor conditions of the first phase of the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

When they found freedom and increased pay in Australia, they wanted to bring the idea of unions in nationwide. Unionism began in Australia in the 1840’s when transportation ceased and workers did not have to compete with cheap convict labour. Trade unions were able to establish themselves between 1876 and 1902. In the 1950’s the attraction of gold brought union-minded workers to Australia. Union membership is on the decline. In the year 2003 unions must still have a part in today’s society.

Through involvement with the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), unions became the biggest pressure group in Australia. However, fewer people are joining unions. The proportion of workers has declined in recent years “(51% in 1976 to 25% in 2002)” (Industrial Relations and Trade Unions Slideshow, 2002). Yes, union membership is falling, but it’s because times have changed. Workplaces are much safer now days because stricter rules and laws have been put in place.

The workplace has changed union membership. It’s not about what unions can or can’t do for you anymore. Employers are moving towards individualized workers’ agreements and the Government has anti-collective bargaining legislation in place. “In 1988, there were over three thousand unions in Australia, with a membership of over 3 000 000. ” (Pollard ; Goldby, 1996:128) Until 1989, Australia had the second highest union membership in the world. Today, only 19% of teenage employees belong to unions.

This a very poor percentage of teenage employee members because if it wasn’t for unions, young workers would not be enjoying the benefits of entitlements such as annual leave, penalty rates, shift loadings, meal breaks, sick leave, skills development, industry superannuation, workers’ compensation and other provisions. Belonging to a union isn’t a waste of money; instead your union, which enables you to have someone on your side if you ever need help about your working conditions, would support you. Unions can help you in so many ways.

For example, if you as an employee weren’t in a union and you weren’t happy with the working conditions or the rate of pay received you wouldn’t have much of a chance getting your way. However if you were a member of a union you could report it and if the rate of pay or working conditions is not changed a union can negotiate and help improve this. Unions are always making sure that you as an individual are receiving a fair go. Unionism is based on numbers. One person doesn’t have much power whereas a whole union has masses of power – they listen to bigger numbers.

Unions are there to help you by providing you with the necessary needs of an employee. Unions make sure that you as an individual gets a fair go by offering you specific benefits such as safety in the workplace, long service leave, credit union and health, shorter hours, annual leave and maternity/paternity leave. These are the benefits that an employee deserves. Another of your colleagues stated, “you only have to look at what happened in the 1980’s to see how important unions are. ” “A trade union’s fundamental responsibility is to its membership.

” (Brooks, 1980:78) Despite laws, most disputes between employers and employees were settled through direct action, with workers striking and leaving their job. This has narrowed in recent years due to more coherent compromise between parties, enterprise bargaining and completion of the Accord. In the 1980’s the 30-hour week was achieved through the discussion of the accord. The Accord was when the government and labour party got together and decided to prevent the fight for a rise. “The Accord established a framework in which both trade unions and employers can contribute positive proposals for government programs.

” (Brooks, 1980:78) It was the labour government that introduced the prices and incomes accord. Unions not only campaign for worker’s right, they are also involved in social issues such as nuclear disarmament, education and training. The social justice issues include the anti-conscription campaign during World War I, opposition to nuclear weapons, the protection of our national resources, including our rainforests, land rights for indigenous Australians and increased rights for women.

Unions are an important past in our society and they continue to be just as important today. Relations in the workplace have changed significantly in the last decade. “Many of these changes have been brought about by governments with input from unions and employer associations resulting in awards restructuring, employment agreements and generally a more conciliatory approach to workplace relations. ” (Beck, Harvey, Mylonas & Rasmussen, 2002:95) Unions are there to help employees. Employers on the other hand don’t have a union as such instead they have employer associations.

Employer associations are established to represent employer groups with reverence to industrial relations matters and in consultation with governments. The objectives of employer associations are that it increases profit, it is flexible, it minimises cost and maximises customer service. Their main role is to act on behalf of employers (especially small businesses) in collective bargaining sessions and before industrial tribunals, courts, commissions and committees. The advantages of having employer associations is that they are able to lobby governments at all levels on behalf of a small business.

The only disadvantage is that it costs a few hundred to several thousand dollars per annum although it is tax deductible. It is important that if you are an employer you become a member in the employer association so that you can become more aware of new and existing legislations. One of your work colleagues posed the question, “Aren’t unions only for wharfies? ” Unions aren’t only for wharfies, any employee can become a union member but everyone doesn’t belong to the same union. Different jobs have different unions.

For example a Law Clerk which is the job that you are situated in Sally, can be a member of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) or Australian Services Union (ASU) whereas a Doctor would join with Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (ASMOF) and a Engineer on the other hand has a variety of unions that they could choose to join with such as Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers Association (ALAEA) or Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU). Wharfies are an important part in union history. Throughout the 1920s and 30s conditions on the wharves could only be described as appalling.

This complete disregard for workers’ safety meant that at times one third of all wharfies were receiving accident compensation at some point during the year. Throughout this period it meant that wharfies often had to wait around all day to see if they would get work. They often didn’t and weren’t paid if there wasn’t work on a particular day. The wharfies reacted to these dangerous work conditions both by organising as a union and through developing practices, which aimed to ease the burden on wharfies by the rapid rotation of workers on duty.

The wharfies won a series of important improvements in their working conditions such as control of employment, whether to work overtime and payment for handling obnoxious cargoes. It is the wharfies that made unions successful today. The law protects everyone from unfair discrimination in workplaces. It is unlawful to discriminate against people on the basis of trade union membership. If you are treated unfairly because you belong to a union, you have been discriminated against and you have the right to lodge a complaint, as this is illegal.

Sally, in having taking into consideration what your work colleagues have said, I advise you to join a union. Even though your friends have told you that union members are troublemakers, it is the way that the media has portrayed this vision that makes you believe this. Don’t always believe what you hear. Unions are as significant today as they were in the past. They are still very important due to the fact that they became the biggest pressure group in Australia.

Although unions only cater for employees, don’t forget that there is the employer associations that represent the employers. “For a worker to refuse to belong to a union is not to exercise a democratic freedom. It is to accept benefits that others have worked for, without contributing to the costs. Democracy flourishes only when freedom is accompanied by responsibility. ” If you choose not to belong to a union you still get the benefits but it’s a very selfish thing to do. Unions work as a group and are there to support you when you are in a conflict situation or any other difficulty.

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