unions wage stagnation
(Image: AAP)

What’s next for the union movement in Australia? A great deal, if Crikey readers are anything to go by. Readers waded into the issue of drifting union power, offering an explanation for the cause of decline while adding hope for the future. Elsewhere, readers discussed the tricky topic of mandatory reporting laws for priests who receive confession.

On the next step for the union movement 

Dean Ellis writes: What is the future of the union movement? Bright. Why? Because unions are part of the DNA of capitalism; they each need the other to survive. A unionist is yin to a capitalist’s yang; they are two sides of the same coin. Unionists are rarely ideologues staunchly committed to “unionism”. They are, unsurprisingly, just like everyone else, people with a well-developed sense of rational self-interest. A typical unionist is someone who joins a union not to advance some crypto communist agenda, but someone who sees being a member of a union as the best way to protect themselves against employer bastardy and or the best way to achieve a pay rise. That’s why unionists will tolerate appalling behaviour of union leaders; members don’t give a tinker’s cuss how badly their leaders behave so long as they get results. Australia is in a lag phase where millennial await the dying out of union dinosaurs before taking the reins of the movement. All it takes then is a little imagination and creativity and the union movement will again be competitive; it must be, for the sake of capitalism.

Jim Andamson writes: Another dilemma to be addressed is the proportion of low paid workers who are here on visas with no trade union membership experience in their cultures and too fearful of losing their visas/jobs to speak out let alone join a union. The recent wages theft cases show some hope for recruiting them. A bit of history: when I started work the union rep came around every pay day to collect your fortnightly union dues. He/she had to justify why you should continue your support. Then deductions became automatic — and perhaps unions got lazy and complacent?

R. Ambrose Raven writes: Fair Work’s path from Keating’s Industrial Relations Act 1988 via Keating’s Industrial Relations Reform Act 1993, then Howard’s Workplace Relations Act then WorkChoices was evolutionary, not revolutionary. Fair Work is a moderated and rebadged WorkChoices. Today’s ACTU is attacking the Fair Work Act introduced by Julia Gillard as prime minister and overseen without amendment by Shorten when he was Gillard’s workplace relations minister. None of the Coalition heads of government — Tony Abbott nor Malcolm Turnbull nor Morrison — have so far made any substantive changes. Why should they? Hawke then Keating then Howard did the workers over very thoroughly.

On confession

Mark Dunstone writes: There is one big fault, or loophole, in the mandatory reporting laws proposed for the Catholic clergy, and that is that it does not extend to making it a criminal offence to incite someone to break the mandatory reporting. If a cardinal, pope, bishop or whoever instructs a priest to not report things said in the confessional that are required to be reported, or threatens to excommunicate them or sack them, then that in itself should be an offence. It is simply not enough that they could or might be liable as an accessory, because that requires the prosecution to prove the main offence.

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Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey