The trade union movement is an important element in the management of safety in workplaces but over the last twenty years, with the exception of a couple of industry sectors, the membership numbers have waned. Until recently in Australia, the union movement was able to maintain a level of influence in the government decision-making process that was contrary to its declining membership.
Last week the Deputy Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, told the ACTU to stop lobbying the government and instead generate innovation, enthusiasm and members by reintroducing itself to the community. Union membership spiked in response to its anti-Howard government advertising over three years ago but any membership based on fear is unsustainable.
Paul Kelly in today’s Australian is more forthright about the trade union position in society and politics but it is clear that the union movement needs to refocus.
Health and safety representatives (HSRs) have been a major element of the enforcement of safety standards in workplaces. Some OHS legislation in the last decade has had to emphasise non-union consultation on safety issues to balance the declining presence of HSRs. New research from Europe has found the following
“having trade union representation leads to better observance of the rules, lower accident rates and fewer work-related health problems.”
Transposing these findings into a non-European context is unwise but the research could provide a model for independent research and a comparative study.
Regrettably the report is not available for free but can be purchased through the European Trade Union Institute.