11 August 2020
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How to respond to union threats

If a union representative doesn't think it constructive to raise concerns with the employer in good faith, there are other ways of dealing with them.

How to respond to union threats

David Bates
21 July 2015

By David Bates

The percentage of workers willing to pay for union membership has been steadily falling for years. Currently, less than 17% of workers are willing to associate themselves with a union. 

This is hardly surprising given events in recent years:

  • Former MP and secretary of the Health Services Union (HSU), Craig Thomson, was found guilty in December 2014 of stealing the union’s (i.e. members’) money;
  • Former ALP national president and former member of the HSU’s national executive, Michael Williamson, is now in prison for fraud;
  • Officials from the militant CFMEU continue to find themselves in trouble following flagrant breaches of Commonwealth laws; and
  • Nurses’ union leaders in Victoria actively encouraged their members to defy court rulings ordering an end to their unlawful industrial action.

Admittedly, these are all fairly extreme examples of unionists showing a blatant disregard for Australia’s laws. But too many unionists also display a blatant disregard for employers too.

Given many union officials have never run a business, it should really come as no surprise that many appear to have a very limited understanding of the commercial realities – and challenges – faced by small and medium-sized business owners.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop some unionists from thinking they know how to run the business better than the business owner who built it up from nothing.

The Workforce Guardian team routinely hears from exhausted and embattled employers who have had just about all they can take from militant, unprofessional, and commercially-naïve union officials. 

Take the employer I’m representing now who has received an incredibly rude letter from one union ‘demanding’ one of their members be immediately back-paid, and threatening legal action if they’re not.   

The writer didn’t bother to check whether an underpayment had actually occurred. And they clearly didn’t think it might be more constructive to raise the concern with the employer in good faith, or offer to work with them collaboratively towards a resolution.

No, for too many unionists such commercial pleasantries are redundant. Instead, they seem to think shouting, threatening, and intimidating are acceptable ways to communicate their position. They aren’t.

My advice on dealing with union threats is simple: don’t. Australia has statutory authorities responsible for enforcing employment laws, and I advise unions to lodge their ‘demands’ with them instead.

Regular readers of this column will know I don’t have much time for those statutory authorities either, so you know things must really be bad when I say even they have more credibility than Australia’s crumbling unions do right now.

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