Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Royal Commission into Trade Unions

report has just been handed down by Commissioner Dyson Heydon - with predictable responses from all interested parties.
The government is saying it is a good report and that the recommendations must be acted upon. The opposition is trying to be conciliatory because it knows that this will be an election issue.
The unions are saying "witch hunt" even more loudly than before.
The media is taking a range of views depending on the political affiliations of those writing and presenting the news and views.
One columnist, Peter van Onselen, tweeted that it was possible for the commission to be both a "witch hunt" and necessary.
I have no doubt at all that, in setting up the commission, the government hoped to show that there was corruption present in the unions being investigated. Apart from the cost and time which would be involved they (and many others) no doubt believe that it is a pity that the investigation was not much wider and more intensive. 
One former Prime Minister has avoided prosecution - but only just. The present Leader of the Opposition is in a similar position. They were, at best, sailing very close to the winds of misconduct. There are many other union members who have avoided answering questions simply because, even with 185 days of hearings, time was too short.
The report barely scratches the surface of the problems being investigated. One of the six volumes remains confidential. I can guess at what it might contain  - and so must many other people. It worries me.
Unions now represent about 16% of the government workforce and 11% of the rest of the workforce. When I joined the government workforce as a teacher union membership was over 80% in both the public and private sector. Union membership was compulsory for many occupations. Even where it was not compulsory it was difficult not to belong.
There are other ways of negotiating pay and conditions now. There are laws covering many more aspects of employment. Unions can be, and still are, involved. They still effectively run "Labor" politics - and that is essentially the problem. The core of the union movement and the leadership has not changed. One of their most senior members recently told me that they would much prefer to go back to compulsory union membership or "no ticket, no start", that they would prefer to have "more control of the work place again".
I think - hope - the workforce has changed and become more flexible. If it hasn't then we won't survive.   

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