|Issue No 6||26 March 1999|
John Robertson on Free-Loaders
- John Robertson is the Asisstant Secretary of the NSW Labor Council
How do we grapple with the problem of non-union members freeloading on the fruits of our labour?
During the election campaign both major parties have sought to make industrial relations a non issue. But irrespective of the election result there are issues in the current legislative framework that Labor Council will be raising with the Government of the day.
One issue that will create substantial debate is the role unions play in the enterprise bargaining process and methods that can used for payment by non union workers who reap the benefits of that representation. Payment would be made for the resources put into the process by the respective union.
In preparing an enterprise agreement, unions will normally conduct research into the issues that concern the workers, then develop and prepare materials and a draft enterprise agreement. The direct negotiation of the enterprise agreement requires the attendance of officials from the union during negotiations and reporting to the workers on the status of negotiations. The union is then finally involved in the voting for acceptance of the proposed enterprise agreement. All of this involves a substantial amount of union time and resources.
While in the majority of instances union involvement will be in workplaces where all the workers are members of a union, there will be many where only a portion of the workforce are unionised. In those workplaces where a portion are not union members, they are still represented by, and receive the benefits negotiated by the union, without contributing to the costs.
It is in this latter situation that alternate methods need to be developed to ensure that everyone who benefits from the role played by the union and the resources put into the negotiations contributes to meeting the costs.
One solution that is still wheeled out by some union officials is the old chestnut of the 'closed shop'. This they argue is a concept that we should be lobbying to re-introduce.
There are, however, a number of conflicting views on the merits of the 'closed shop' and whether this is in the best interest of a movement trying to reinvigorate itself and its activities. Some have argued that all those who benefit should contribute and the 'closed shop' would address this problem, while others argue that the 'closed shop' made unions lazy and this has been a major factor in the decline of union participation rates. While both points make for an interesting debate, it is not proposed to canvass that debate here.
A concept that would address the view that all those who benefit should contribute is negotiating a provision in an enterprise agreement that requires the payment of a service fee to the union for the resources it has put into the successful negotiation of the enterprise agreement. The fee would nominally be at the same level as a contribution for union membership and paid by all employees for the life of the agreement. This however would not be required for financial union members.
The effect of this proposal is firstly that the union receives a service fee for the resources put into the development and negotiation of the enterprise agreement and secondly that all those who benefit contribute without being compelled to join a union. This would then not compel nor discriminate against a worker who chose to join, or not to join, a union.
The inclusion of a provision as part of the enterprise agreement in similar terms to those above would have to be voted on and supported by a majority of those workers to be affected. If the majority of employees have voted in support of the proposal through a legitimate and democratic process, the provision should be implemented.
The basis for the introduction of freedom of association provisions was to provide choice or remove compulsion to join a union. The above proposal maintains the ability for choice through a democratic process.
The service fee concept means that the union effectively front end loads the cost of providing the resources for the negotiation of the enterprise agreement which is then repaid by non union workers over the life of the enterprise agreement ensuring that those who benefit contribute.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005