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Trade unions still living in the Twilight Zone

You would have thought that with the election of a Coalition Government, Australia’s trade union movement might reverse its slow decline into irrelevancy and scandal.

Trade unions still living in the Twilight Zone

David Bates
30 May 2014

by David Bates

You would have thought that with the election of a Coalition Government (albeit one that has very little on say about employment law reform), Australia’s trade union movement might reverse its slow decline into irrelevancy and scandal and actually join us here in the real world.

They might even want to engage in a constructive discussion about what all sectors of our economy can do to support job growth, improve productivity, and clamp-down on corruption.

Apparently not.

The latest example of Australia’s unions living in a world of fantasy and make believe can be found in the International Trade Union Confederation’s (ITUC) 2014 ‘Global Rights Index’. This publication purports to assign a score of 1-5+ to countries based on how well they protect the rights of workers. You can download your copy here.

Who is the General Secretary of the ITUC I hear you ask? Well, none other than former head of our own Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Sharon Burrow. The ACTU is, of course, an affiliated member of the ITUC and Ms Burrow presents the Foreword to the Index.

The reason I’m so flabbergasted by this publication is the score given to Australia: 3. Yes, on a scale of 1-5+ (with 5+ being the worst of the worst – think Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Ivory Coast), Australia scores only a 3. This puts us into the category of nations where there is a ‘regular violation of rights’ and where:

‘Government and/or companies are regularly interfering in collective labour rights or are failing to fully guarantee important aspects of these rights. There are deficiencies in laws and/or certain practices which make frequent violations possible.’

Really? Australia? The nation with one of the most hopelessly complex and over-regulated labour markets in the world? Where virtually anyone can lodge an unfair dismissal claim? Where there’s a Fair Work Ombudsman, a Fair Work Commission, more than 120 Modern Awards, 10 National Employment Standards, countless Fair Work Inspectors, a national Fair Work Infoline, anti-bullying laws, the right to strike, the right to join a union, the right to be represented by a union and much, much more? A score of 3?

Well, at least we’re not alone. Fellow nations scoring a 3 include Chad, Ghana, Madagascar, Republic of Congo and Costa Rica. It seems we have a lot to learn from those nations which were awarded higher scores than us including Malawi, Russia, and Birkina Faso (an African nation that our own Foreign Affairs Department warns has areas too dangerous to visit).

Insert Twilight Zone music here.

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