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Australia’s Union Renewal Strategies

The influence of trade unions in Australia is significant. Among the largest and oldest trade unions in the country are such labor organizations as the Teachers’ Federation, the Australian Workers’ Union, and others. These trade unions conduct joint actions that sometimes result in clashes with government officials, but in general the voices of the trade union movement are important to the Australian government (Cake 664). However, the overall decline of trade unions has created new challenges and requires the development of new strategies for union renewal. This paper will provide a review of the current literature associated with strategies such as intensified international labor solidarity, partnerships with new social movements, and the organization of the informal sector in an Australian context.

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Currently, the independent body Safe Work Australia is continuing to work towards achieving the ambitious goals of the organization’s National Strategy through various means, which include international cooperation, building alliances with social movements, and focusing on the informal sector. Globalization has put international cooperation at the forefront of the development of trade unions and has become a focus of effective performance. As the workforce becomes more flexible and dynamic than ever, trade unions should collaborate with their foreign colleagues and discuss common issues together. Fairbrother states that trade unions, in responding to the challenges of the time along with seeking solutions to traditional issues, need to acquire a new approach to interaction with the legislative and executive authorities at all levels in order to develop and expand social dialogue with state and public institutions (567). Such an approach is likely to be beneficial for addressing emerging challenges and implementing specific strategic directions in the field of protecting employees and ensuring their rights in workplaces.

The establishment and continuous monitoring of active cooperation with foreign partners has received increased attention as a leading option for integrating the global community. Fairbrother et al. argue that the use of international contacts and cooperation to develop and implement measures to ensure accessibility and equal opportunity at all levels in the context of worldwide trends can serve as a framework for revitalizing union trades (42). Most importantly, the support of existing bodies seems to be critical. This may include the representation and protection of trade union members’ interests at the level of international organizations such as the International Labor Organization (ILO), the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and so on.

Another option is participation in international campaigns and solidarity actions to protect the social and economic rights and interests of employees and support their social status. In particular, focusing on uniting working people is an important step that builds on the initiatives of the World Federation of Trade Unions, which is widely active at the international and regional levels. Supporting their struggle against capitalist cruelty and injustice and focusing on the creation of coalitions between the working class, people with low income, and self-employed workers have been proposed by Tattersall (72). The purpose of this option is to enhance workers’ quality of life and working conditions. Therefore, the priority task for trade unions is to be active daily wherever workers are being hired and exploited—in factories and plants, in transnational corporations, and so on. In this regard, trade unions should be considered an organization of the working class regardless of their differences in ideology, religion, gender, or other characteristics, while remaining open and democratic in nature.

The second strategy that aims at improving the contemporary situation with trade unions in Australia is associated with the organization of the informal sector. In recent decades, the overall employment rate in Australia has increased to 44 percent, which apparently reflects the influx of workers to the informal sector (Correa‐Velez et al. 322). Among such employees, there are many immigrants, refugees, and international students. They work as waiters in cafés, helpers in the kitchen, and do other similar work in return for payment in cash. In other words, people receive wages at the end of the day or at the end of the week in cash, from which they do not pay any pension contributions or taxes, and, accordingly, they have no social support. Because they are vulnerable to their employers’ actions, they also need to be protected by trade unions. In order to address these challenges, Burgess et al. state that the harmonization of local legislation governing the field of informal labor should be achieved through national legislation (4084).

It goes without saying that the transition of workers from the informal sector to the formal one should be assigned a top priority. By raising awareness of the importance of workplace safety policies and the content of their provisions, including national programs such as the National Safe Work Week in Australia, more productive discussion of the topic may be encouraged. More to the point, awarding annual national awards to promote the best practices in the field of occupational safety should be continued. Improving the collection and analysis of data on employee compensation in the context of developing policies and regulatory frameworks may increase the effectiveness of decision making in trade unions. In other words, more attention paid to data collection and its subsequent analysis is likely to encourage the overall growth of trade unions due to an increased awareness of current challenges and opportunities in the given field.

The third strategy that should be discussed in relation to Australian trade unions is the development of social dialogue and social partnerships. This would promote progress in the structure and conditions of operating and managing the social partnership system, taking into account the delineation of the authority of executive bodies, state authorities, local government, and institutions (Murray 13). It is also important to increase the effectiveness of contractual regulations concerning social and labor relations by including individual and collective agreements regarding provisions aimed at achieving specific results as soon as possible. The development and approval of tools for monitoring the effectiveness of these agreements as well as the creation of a database of positive achievements at all levels of social partnership are likely to be leading goals of trade unions in the future.

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As has been shown by the literature, social unionism is the result of a long development whose roots lie in a unique combination of national, institutional, economic, political, and socio-cultural conditions as well as in the strategies and tactics pursued by trade unions. Researchers believe that for successful unionization, it is necessary to simultaneously have three institutional conditions: first, direct access of trade unions to workplaces; second, the involvement of trade unions in the management of unemployment benefits; third, the existence of a centralized collective contractual system (Toubol and Jensen 150). The activity of trade unions should be aimed at the development of social dialogue and negotiation, which will further strengthen the role of these organizations in industry, promote the resolution of labor disputes and conflicts, and improve social peace and harmony. At the same time, trade unions cannot be expected to be responsible for the measures taken by legislative and executive bodies without taking into account the trade unions’ views.

An important direction in the work of trade unions is participation in the improvement of the legislative framework that facilitates the regulation of social and labor relationships. In taking part in the work of industry and government commissions, trade unions are actively opposing attempts to reduce the level of workers’ social guarantees. In the event of infringement of trade union members’ rights, they reserve the right to picket, demonstrate, and strike. Today, trade union organizations constitute a relevant mechanism to ensure the constitutional rights of citizens and contribute to the development of civil society. The activities of trade unions include millions of people, and their initiatives have the benefit of great material and financial resources for influencing social processes.

To conclude, the importance of trade unions in the Australian context cannot be overstated, since they ensure employees’ rights in the workplace and struggle against discrimination. The current decline in trade unions’ effectiveness is leading to a need to consider revitalization and such strategies as international cooperation, partnerships with new social movements, and a focus on organizing employees in the informal sector. This literature review shows that trade unions have great potential to strengthen their positions and improve working conditions based on these revitalization strategies.

Works Cited

Burgess, John, Julia Connell, and Jonathan Winterton. “Vulnerable Workers, Precarious Work and the Role of Trade Unions and HRM.” The International Journal of Human Resource Management, vol. 24, no. 22, 2013, pp. 4083-4093.

Cake, Susan. “Trade Union Struggles.” Work, Employment, and Society, vol. 28, no. 4, 2014, pp. 663-668.

Correa‐Velez, Ignacio, Adrian G. Barnett, and Sandra Gifford. “Working for a Better Life: Longitudinal Evidence on the Predictors of Employment Among Recently Arrived Refugee Migrant Men Living in Australia.” International Migration, vol. 53, no. 2, 2015, pp. 321-337.

Fairbrother, Peter, Christian Lévesque, and Marc-Antonin Hennebert. Transnational Trade Unionism: Building Union Power. Routledge, 2013.

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Fairbrother, Peter. “Rethinking Trade Unionism: Union Renewal as Transition.” The Economic and Labour Relations Review, vol. 26, no. 4, 2015, pp. 561-576.

Murray, Gregor. “Union Renewal: What Can We Learn From Three Decades of Research?” Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, vol. 23, no. 1, 2017, pp. 9-29.

Tattersall, Amanda. “How Do We Build Power in Coalition? Rethinking Union-Community Coalition Types 12 Years on.” Labour & Industry: A Journal of the Social and Economic Relations of Work, vol. 28, no. 1, 2018, pp. 68-81.

Toubol, Jonas, and Carsten Strøby Jensen. “Why Do People Join Trade Unions? The Impact of Workplace Union Density on Union Recruitment.” Transfer: European Review of Labour and Research, vol. 20, no. 1, 2014, pp. 135-154.

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