Why has trade union membership shrunk so dramatically in the past twenty five years? Will this continue?

Essay by cheekynicki May 2004

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Trade unions flourished in Australia throughout most of the 20th century, particularly in the 1920s and 1980s. Much of its popularity was due to the centralised conciliation and arbitration system which was introduced in 1904. The purpose of the conciliation and arbitration system was merely to settle disputes that extended beyond state borders. Trade unions then saw it as an opportunity to increase union members. Thus many unions are formed to which the conciliation and arbitration system gives unions a degree of stability and security. (S. Long, 1999, pp 1, 6) However it is after the 1980 which showed a rapid decline in membership. According to several researches few key factors have contributed to the dramatic decline in the past 25 years which are government and employer opposition, structural changes in the economy, shifts of trends in the workforce, amalgamation etc. these factors led the unions to a disastrous stage till this very day.

Increased government and employer opposition has long been one of the key factors as to the contributory factors to the declining rate of union membership. The effects of government and legislations play a huge role on unions although many do not take political factors into account. Anti-union legislations have been unleashed, the first wave introduced by the 1996 Workplace Relations Act. The sole purpose of it was to eliminate the very existence of trade unions. The Act was for individual contracts to replace union-negotiated award agreements, and made effective industrial actions much more difficult by outlawing secondary boycotts, which prompted the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to denounce it as a violation or workers' human rights. After the fall of the first wave Reith's second wave was introduced into the Senate on the June 31, which was designed to finish off what was left of the country's...