The unions are pushing for a pay scale for non-members

On Sunday, United Workers Union President Tim Kennedy called for a crackdown on “free-riding” workers who had not registered with unions.

A spokesman for the Victorian Trades Hall Council said the organization supports Kennedy’s position, adding: “If more workers contribute to the negotiations, we will see better results across the board”.

AMWU national secretary Steve Murphy wants the current laws to be revised.

AMWU national secretary Steve Murphy wants the current laws to be revised.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Unions NSW, the state’s supreme body, made its case in August when it called for charges to be brought in line with several other countries, including Canada, parts of the United States and South Africa.

The collective push to lift the Howard-era ban follows the release of figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that union membership in Australia fell to a new historic low of 12 last year after nearly 50 years of decline. fell 5 percent.

Unions in parts of the US can charge non-members a fee for wage agreements that benefit them, while several European countries are imposing rules forcing workers to join organizations that negotiate shop agreements or protections on their behalf.


The charging of a negotiation fee was banned by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, a stance maintained under the Rudd-Gillard governments. Australia Trade Union Council Secretary Sally McManus said it was not on the top body’s agenda when asked at the end of November.

But ACTU President Michele O’Neil on Tuesday signaled her support for the overhaul of the laws, saying Australia was unusual internationally in having labor laws that limit the content of collective agreements.

“Workers and employers should be able to negotiate and reach an agreement on matters that affect them,” O’Neil said.

Opposition workplace spokeswoman Michaelia Cash described the move as “a shameful demand that negates the fundamental right of all Australians to freedom of association”.


“Australians have the right not to join a union and they should never be forced to do so,” she said. “Australians should prepare for further encroachments on their fundamental rights by this government, which will do everything it can to appease their union paymasters.”

Australian Industry Group leader Innes Willox said it was unreasonable and unfair to require workers exercising their right not to join a union to fund the activities of organisations.

“Nearly 90 per cent of Australian workers are non-union. The lack of importance of unions in most workplaces is becoming increasingly evident,” he said.

In an application to the Government’s Migration Review, ACTU recommended tackling exploitation by ensuring that all migrant workers receive an “on-arrival briefing” from a union representative to inform them of their rights in the workplace and give them the opportunity to join the union.


It also provided skilled support for raising the annual admissions of permanent migrants from 195,000 to 200,000.

RMIT industrial relations expert Professor Anthony Forsyth said there was no good reason to prevent unions and workers from including such clauses in company agreements.

He said the freedom of association arguments put forward to combat the idea hadn’t stood the test because employees weren’t being forced to join a union.

“They could choose to either join or pay the fee for services they receive under a union-negotiated agreement,” he said.

“This is an issue that the Albanian government really needs to address in the next round of IR law reforms this year.”

Break through the noise of federal politics with news, perspective and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Subscribers can sign up for our weekly Inside Politics newsletter here. The unions are pushing for a pay scale for non-members

Callan Tansill

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