One of the issues that might concern the Cat crowd is where does the principle of freedom of contract fit in with the current revelations about Shorten’s time at the helm of the AWU.
Here’s the important thing to note: the unions are dead against the principle of freedom of contract, the idea that a worker should be able to bargain directly with an employer to secure mutually beneficial terms of engagement, without coercion or fraud.
That is why unions have been so vociferous in their opposition to INDIVIDUAL CONTRACTING. This has been their consistent position.
The officials will cloak their explanation by saying that (enforced) collective bargaining leads to better outcomes for workers. (What? Suspend the laws of supply and demand?)
But here’s what collective bargaining does:
- It can dud all workers because the deal is done by the agent and the workers won’t be made aware of alternatives;
- It will definitely dud some workers because all workers are not the same (productivity or preference-wise);
- It imposes the collective bargaining conditions on new workers when an agreement is in place and who haven’t had a chance to vet or vote on those conditions;
- It creates scope for deals to be done between the agent (the union) and the employer to secure an inferior deal for the worker but a better deal for the union and employer (the current scenario we are seeing in a number of instances);
- When the collective bargaining (EBA) requires legal certification, the willingness of the FWC to waive through collective union deals without thorough scrutiny (which is typically the case – only non-union deals are fully vetted) is a helpful – nay, vital – part of the conspiracy against workers.
The point is that the unions don’t really think that collective bargaining is good for workers – and with jobs now more differentiated, the argument for a collective approach is very weak. Moreover, the scope for industrial action to back up the collective approach is very limited these days – workers aren’t going to lose pay on the basis of some union frolic.
But collective bargaining is very good for unions. It enables them to hoodwink workers (only a fraction typically vote on the agreement and many will naively follow the union’s advice, being told this is the only way to get a pay rise) and to do disguised deals with employers that enrich the unions. And note the dollars and favours may not just go to the union but to associated groups such as GetUp!
This approach may be unethical by employers but it is rational, given the constraints of the system (in particular, the inability to bargain directly with individual workers because of the legislation – thanks Jools). There are only a few managers/owners running the Grocons and Douglas Site Services etc. who refuse to do deals on principle.
Just don’t forget the union ditty:
TOGETHER UNITED WE’LL NEVER BE DEFEATED
That’s together with the bosses and the FWC (hey, lots of our pals, former union officials, are there).