Presidential Address, Simon Crean A.C.T.U. Congress, 1989

The Accord relationship and the issues which confronted the union movement through that relationship, award restructuring, labour market flexibility, Industry and trade development strategy,environmental issues, international issues and recruitment and self regulation. Presidential Address, Simon Crean A.C.T.U. Congress, 1989 Sydney, September 25 1989.

Introduction

It again give me great pleasure to commence the proceedings of this 1989 Congress with the Presidential Address.

 

I welcome to the Congress our International guests, members of the Diplomatic Corps, organisations, visitors and the media who have chosen to observe the trade union movement this week in the democratic process of determining its policy and initiatives for the advancement of this country and the workers who comprise it.

 

I particularly welcome the Delegates to Congress from all over Australia, many who because of the pilots’ dispute have endured difficulty in attending. In your deliberations this week rests the future of the trade union movement in this Country.

 

Delegates, we meet at a time of continuing change and great challenge to the trade union movement. It is a challenge to our continued existence. It is a challenge which in part we have met.

 

The Accord reflects that part of our response which has enabled us to meet one of the two great challenges facing trade union movements around the world. Namely how do we position ourselves for relevance by ensuring legitimacy as genuine partner in social and economic reform at all levels in the economy.

 

Through it we have been presented with the opportunity to involve ourselves in the policy formulation and implementation strategy of matters of great national significance. Matters which not only impact on the equitable distribution of growth but those that determine the nature, direction and extent of that growth.

 

We have developed a completely new and practical dimension to industrial relations, wages and labour market policies in this country. A dimension beyond distribution and beyond disputation. It develops a new tool of economic management but recognises that new tool must be applied in a socially responsible and compassionate way. It enables a balance in the adjustment process between the competing goals of efficiency and equity. It also enable a balance between macro economic and micro economic concerns.

 

The Accord is a comprehensive, radical and now proven approach. One that has still a long way to go but which has been of enormous advantage to date. Above all an approach that must be persisted with.

 

Whilst we have been very successful in meeting the challenge of establishing our legitimacy as a genuine partner in social and economic reform, we have been no where near as successful in meeting the other great challenge facing trade union movements. That is the challenge of more effective organisation of appealing to a wider and more diverse membership base; of not merely gaining better public approval but of gaining increased membership and as an essential part of that process getting our own house in order by developing a better system for membership recruitment and self regulation.

 

In other words whilst the accord and its mechanisms have developed our strategic response we have not developed an effective organisational response.

 

This Congress must address that challenge.

 

More on that issue later. I want first to return to the Accord relationship and the issues which still confront us through that relationship.

The Nature of the Relationship

History has shown that merely having a structural relationship between Labors political and industrial wings is insufficient.

 

To be effective we must demonstrate the significance of that relationship to social and economic reform.

 

Nor can the trade union movement delude itself. No Government including a Labor Government would be interested in developing a relationship to social and economic reform.

 

From a trade union perspective this means being prepared to bargain for and deliver a wages outcome appropriate to the economic circumstances and as a consequence positioning ourselves to influence outcomes in other areas that effect our membership.

 

At the same time it involves a recognition of the importance of contributing actively to the process of socially responsible growth to enhance the basis for a fairer distribution of benefits.

 

In essence the Accord is Wages policy for a voice in Government.

 

As a consequence of this approach the trade union movement has become widely recognised as a legitimate partner in the process of economic & social reform.

 

That recognition reflects growing public support for the more responsible and constructive approach developed by the trade union movement over recent years. But the nature of our response derives fundamentally from the opportunity created to respond.

 

The proposition is simple, genuine involvement leads to responsibility. It holds true at all levels of the relationship. The Trade Union Movement and the Labor Government realised it and developed it. The new challenge is for unions to develop a similar constructive relationship at the enterprise and industry level. A relationship built around genuine involvement. The new Wages system and Award Restructuring is the vehicle for building that relationship.

The Alternative

The Accord approach is comprehensive, disciplined and flexible.

 

It stands in stark contrast to deregulation of the labour market. A system with no macro economic direction, no equity roo social objectives and no framework for tapping co-operation at all levels.

 

Such a system is based on market forces determining wage outcomes and invoking penalties against those who take industrial action. In the current economic environment, it would lead to a wages breakout. We would have a multitude of pilots’ claims backed by industrial action because unions would have no choice but to pursue their objectives through wage increases alone.

 

In abandoning effective centralised wage fixation which the Accord has delivered the wages breakout would lead to rampant inflation and falling investment inducing recession and its consequences of unemployment and a wages freeze.

 

In the process we would wallow in a mire of industrial disputation and litigation.

 

Only a fool would contemplate it. But we actually have an Opposition whose policies would achieve it.

 

The Opposition says that in Government it can work with us, but their policy gives us no confidence. We are not provocatively threatening industrial action against or refusing to work with a non-Labor Government in the future, we are simply pointing to the consequences of their flawed approach.

 

We have demonstrated an ability to work with Government and make tough decisions. The question is not can we work with Government but whether government is prepared to develop a constructive relationship with us. The current one is and has. The Coalition policies suggest they don’t want to and wont.

 

The Pilots’ dispute highlights the alternative. A wage claim which has no regard to economic reality and pursued with industrial muscle outside the discipline of a system; in which employer and union strengths are pitted to achieve an enormously costly stalemate. It is collective bargaining in the U.S. style. It’s a system in which unions have not faired well in the long term and it’s a system disastrous for the economy in the short term.

 

Every affiliate opposes the Pilots’ claims. The Airline Companies also opposed the claims and the Pilots in pursuit of those claims first imposed bans then resigned after being taken outside the system of which they said they didn’t want to be part.

 

This issue of penalties and the status of the organisation has to be seen against this background.

Sanctions

On these issues let me re-state our position.

 

We oppose legal penalties and damages pursued against unions and workers who withdraw their labour. We also oppose employers and Government using strike breaking tactics. But that is not the issue here.

 

The real issue is that of mutual obligation. We have consistently said in relation to any dispute that organisations seeking to pursue claims outside that which is collectively determined can’t expect the support of the rest of the trade union movement.

 

Having chose to go outside the system with its obligations and discipline the Pilots can’t expect to enjoy the benefits, protection and support which the system and its participants could otherwise provide.

 

The reality is that the Australian Federation of Air Pilots (AFAP) has isolated itself. All of its actions and tactics have ensured that. It has only itself to blame. In the process the AFAP has jeopardised its future and created the environment for segmenting the union through individual contracts.

 

We cannot support individual contracts in preference to collective representation through a union but you can only help those who are prepared to help themselves.

 

It is a salutary lesson. Isolation is a very effective sanction, not penalties. Unions which want the luxury of going on their own must ultimately survive on their own.

Benefits Under The Accord

I return now to progress under the Accord.

 

If we accept the argument that the Accord is wages policy for a voice in Government then the measurement of success cannot be judged by what has happened to wages alone.

 

By way of perspective it should also be noted that prevailing economic circumstances caused the fallin real wages not the Accord.

 

The simple fact is that with the dramatic collapse in our terms of trade the rest of the world paid us less for our exports. National income fell and wages had to adjust.

 

The Accord shared the burden more equitably, particularly through continuing employment growth and its consequent growth in household disposable income.

 

Whilst real wages since 1983 have fallen by 2% household disposable income has risen 15%.

 

The measure of success is not just wages but living standards.

 

To assist in judging success to date the benefits deriving from the wider agenda and the improvement in living standards which we have influenced by delivering wages policy are as follows:

Achievements Under Accord

Employment

 

 

  • 1.54 million new jobs (25% growth)
  • Unemployment at 5.9% (The lowest in 8 years)
  • Participation rate 63.4 (highest recorded)
  • Unemployment rate adjusted for the 1983 participation rate 2.2%
  • 19% growth in fulltime jobs
  • 37% growth in female jobs

 

Household Disposable Income

 

  • An increase of 15% compared to a real wage fall of 2%

 

Targeted Labour Market Initiatives

 

  • New start - targeted to the long term unemployed
  • Jet - targeted to sole parents

 

Family Support

 

  • Increased family allowances
  • FAS increases to low income families
  • Better targeted family assistance
  • Introduction of child support scheme
  • Indexing family assistance

 

Education and Training

 

  • Overhaul of youth income support
  • Year 12 retention rate increased from 36% to 58%
  • Increase in higher education places
  • Increased expenditure on education
  • New funding sources dedicated to education expenditure including training levy on industry

 

Superannuation

 

  • A national system for superannuation commenced
  • Integration of taxation, superannuation, and welfare systems for retirement
  • Radical retirement income strategy announced

 

Medicare

 

  • Introduction of universal health insurance system based on capacity to pay.

 

Taxation Reform

 

  • Repairing income tax base
  • Dividend imputation to encourage investment in equity (Australian sourced) as against debt.
  • Introduction of a Capital Gains Tax
  • Introduction of a Fringe Benefits Tax
  • Substantial reductions in personal income tax rates
  • Recent tax cuts concentrated on low and middle income groups

 

Housing

 

  • Rental assistance to low income families
  • Increase funding for public housing
  • Home care for the aged through Home & Community Care programme
  • Additional funding to mortgage and rental relief scheme

 

Pensions.

 

  • Aged pensions at 25% AWE
  • Income free area raised
  • Significant easing of poverty traps
  • Additional rental assistance
  • Earlier payment of increases
  • Taking most pensioners out of the tax system

 

Youth

 

  • Additional accomodation for homeless youth
  • Increases in young homeless allowance
  • Increases in Austudy payments
  • Expanded labour market assistance associated with the transition to work.

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders

 

  • Increased assistance
  • Introduction of long term education policy

 

National Occupation Health & Safety legislation

Sex Discrimination and Affirmative Action Legislation

Not only is the list impressive in its own right it is a strong reminder to the critics who argue that the labour movement has lost its way and is not catering for the traditional concerns of a more equitable society. High in priority have been those most in need. Whatever its other attributes the Accord has been, and will remain, explicitly egalitarian.

 

The benefits and the opportunity to influence them through the accord need to be better explained to our membership. It’s not a device for wage restraint. It’s a device for significant improvements in our living standards.

 

The other point of course is that the achievements to date have occurred in circumstances of a more difficult economic environment.

 

The opportunity now exists for real and sustained improvements but only if we continue to develop the strategy sensible. The April agreement with the Government reflects that. It’s a package of wage increases, tax cuts and social wage benefits. It provides an average increase in living standards equivalent to a 12% wage rise.

 

Our continued commitment to delivering appropriate wage outcomes remains central to continued progress.

The Economic Environment

The benefits outlined above deriving from the Accord have to be seen against a background of very difficult economic adjustment. Not only have we had the task of promoting sustained economic growth to increase employment and living standard opportunities we have had to adjust dramatically and deal with the underlying balance of payments constraint to our economic development. This is most evident over the past twelve months with domestic production incapable of satisfying the huge surge in demand generated from a buoyant domestic economy. Excess internal demand, growth in imports, low domestic savings and the balance of payments consequences thus contributed to setting the scene for a period of tight monetary policy.

 

Throughout the Accord period job growth has been remarkable.

 

Since 1983 1.54 million new jobs have been created; a 25% growth. In the last 13 months the rate has accelerated; 420,000 jobs, a 5.6% growth.

 

The rate of growth far exceeds employment growth in all other OECD countries. The unemployment rate in Australia is now 5.9% the lowest in 8 years. Adjusted to the April 1983 participation rate the rate of unemployment would be 1.3%

 

By any standards it’s spectacular success. A success many argued could not be achieved.

 

Now to the key issues to be pursued in the future.

Inflation

Inflation has emerged as a major problem over the past 12 months. From a position of 11 ½% in 1982 it got down to 6% only to see it rise again and stabilise around 7% in the past 12 months. Inflation must be brought down to enhance competitiveness and take pressure off wages. Currently the Government’s most effective anti inflationary strategy is wages policy. That needs to be supplemented. Business and Government must play their part. If they don’t wages policy cannot continue to be relied upon.

 

We must also look at appropriate measures such as through fiscal policy and ensuring a commitment from employers to limit price increases to get inflation down. In the context of next years negotiations with Government we have to achieve an inflation rate for the next fiscal year (1990/91) of 5% or lower. If inflation isn’t brought down wages outcomes will be higher than need otherwise be the case.

 

The onus must be shifted. Our claim for adjustment based on prices next year does that and is affordable if more effective anti inflation a measures are taken by Government and Business.

Wages

After job opportunity wages are the dominant determent of our members living standards. Wages policy will always therefore be central to our consideration.

 

The Accord has introduced a number of new dimension to wages policy. It has enabled us to avoid for the first time a wages breakout in circumstances of strong domestic activity and tight labour market conditions.

 

1974 and 1981 under different Governments, neither with a wages policy which involved the trade union movement, saw similar condition lead to huge wage blow outs. The trade union movement had no alternative without a legitimate partnership role to influence a wider agenda. It was forced to rely solely on wage outcomes to advance living standards. The gains were large and short lived, inflation and unemployment saw to that.

 

It is not a position we will allow to happen again if we can avoid it. Specifically that is why we have so strongly opposed the Pilots’ claims. But more generally our ability to avoid such a blow out is conditioned by our strategy and our ability to genuinely participate.

 

Award Restructuring and its support by the Government together with a package of Taxation and Social Wage Reform to significantly raise living standards represents the strategy and the genuine participation through a wider agenda. In addition the wage package for the first time enables us to deal specifically with the problem of low paid workers. It enable us to progressively lift those rates without flow on consequences up the scale.

 

Another dimension of wages policy in the current environment is for it to genuinely facilitate the freeing up of rigidities and inefficiencies in the labour market, and generating growth through productive expansion and productivity improvement.

 

We don’t need to be convinced of the need for this. We want to be involved in the circumstances under which it occurs. Properly handled we can not only prevent erosion of conditions and exploitation of workers but can ensure a genuine improvement in the way in which work is performed with benefits both to management and to workers. It is an approach involving working smarter not harder.

Award Restructuring

Award Restructuring enables us to address issues of work organisation, better capacity utilisation and improved productivity on terms acceptable to us. Not through a negative cost cutting exercise but through award and enterprise agreements. It enables wage increases which need not impact on cost structures. It enables wage increases to all workers including an adjustment this year. By addressing properly relativities and the base it is a system conducive to indexation particularly in a lower inflation environment.

 

By identifying real constraints in the labour market to greater expansion and linking their resolution to remuneration we can actually produce a situation whereby both sides can win. Workers, through higher wages and greater involvement in a more meaningful work environment. Employers, through increased productivity and lower costs.

 

Some of the constraints award restructuring is already addressing are:

 

A. The inadequacy of skill formation

B. Training and retraining not just for entry to the workforce but adaptability in a changing work environment.

C. Rigid and inappropriate award and classification structures.

D. Improved capacity utilisation and /or improved work organisation.

E. Relatives both at the top end through training, experience and skills, and at the lower end through supplementary payments.

 

For this approach to succeed requires management and unions to collectively identify where the potential for growth exists and to agree on solutions to problems which have to be overcome to realise the potential.

 

It can occur at industry level or the enterprise level. It can involve expanding existing capacity or establishing “Greenfield” operations.

 

However it occurs we must ensure we are capable of being effectively involved, speaking with one voice and can deliver.

 

This in turn requires us to tackle organisational issues.

Labour Market Flexibility

This flexibility dimension to wages policy coupled with other initiatives developed jointly with Government provide significant opportunities to address other constraints in the labour market.

A. Addition Resources for Training

Our involvement through DEET to more effectively link our training and education systems with the needs of the community and industry. In addition the Government is committed to increasing the resources available for education and training including introduction of a training levy to ensure industry makes a greater contribution.

B. Superannuation

On retirement incomes we have seen the efforts over many years through the Accord to extend the spread of superannuation culminate in the recent Budget in the most far reaching and radical Retirement Incomes Policy ever produced in this country. It is a strategy for the long term. It commits the Government to encouraging the further spread of superannuation through taxation and wages policy.

 

It links taxation and social security measures to provide a more equitable approach to delivering affordable retirement income with economic dignity.

 

So far as the labour market is concerned it will provide for greater flexibility through improved portability and early retirement options.

 

The consequent growth in funds coupled with the dividend imputation system will provide a massive pool of domestically sourced investment funds for growth in Australia’s productive expansion. This will reduce the pressure currently in place on the private sector to borrow overseas and as a strategy to address domestic savings.

 

It is clearly a comprehensive strategy with many pluses.

 

A long-term strategy of benefit to our members and the nation is something we must embrace. Accordingly as part of our next wage considerations we should actively pursue the opportunity presented in the Budget to increase superannuation by a further 3% and build upon that opportunity for the future.

C. Sectoral Responses

We have participated in many industry plans which have addressed in turn many rigidities and constraints

 

Two areas of particular significance where this is currently occurring are Shipping and Stevedoring. Both have involved the unions embracing massive changes to facilitate a more efficient and productive industry but in circumstances in which they have been able to genuinely negotiate and be involved in the process of reform.

 

Due credit is not given to the progress and the concessions made but then our strongest critics will never be satisfied.

 

All of the above point to serious attempts at greater labour market flexibility where it is needed.

 

Unlike the deregulators who simply say free up the labour market break down the rigid structures and the solution will occur. Our approach is to actually identify the constraints and develop a commitment to tackle them.

The Need for an Industry and Trade Development Strategy

Economic growth can’t be sustained without investment in expanding our productive capacity. At the last Congress we criticised the slow response of investment in productive capacity. By contrast the last 2 years has seen very strong investment growth, 15% in each of those years. This strong growth is essential but has had its own adverse impact on our balance of payments through growth in imports of capital equipment. This is inevitable given the current structure of our economy.

 

Whilst the recent surge in investment is welcome it still came too late and the bunching has produced its own pressures on monetary policy. This highlights the problems of the investment response if lest to market forces alone.

 

It is the combination of the problems associated with market responses and the vicious circle of our balance of payments constraint which means we still need an effective industry and trade development strategy.

 

Such a strategy would identify –

 

(a) our natural advantages and strengths

(b) the development projects around which investment decisions have been, or are likely to be, taken so that associated industries can identify the niche opportunities

(c) the barriers to reaching our full development potential

(d) the options for overcoming the barriers including assistance, if necessary, to influence the timing of investment.

(e) the potential at an enterprise level for Award Restructuring to enhance such a strategy.

 

At the industry and national level a number of bodies, all of them tripartite exist whose areas of expertise in the field of economic industry and trade development overlap. Bodies such as:

 

 

  • EPAC (Economic Planning Advisory Council)
  • AMC (Australian Manufacturing Council)
  • NLCC (National Labour Consultative Council)
  • TDC (Trade Development Council)
  • AUSTRADE
  • NIES (National Industries Extension Service)
  • PAIC (Primary and Allied Industries Council)

 

 

What is needed is greater co-ordination of these bodies. Such co-ordination would occur against a background of an overall strategy to greater integration and/or rationalisation of the bodies. In other worlds the bodies themselves will be more effective if they are working to fulfil more comprehensive strategy of which they are a component part.

 

There are many industries in which we have significant natural advantage that can be further developed in a value added sense. Industries such as food processing, fibre processing, forrest products, petrochemicals, aerospace technology to name a few.

 

In addition there are many major development projects committed or seriously mooted.

 

Combined they provide a formidable framework for development and growth. It’s no good waiting for the markets to come to us before we respond. We need to be proactive not reactive in development and if necessary provide assistance, but assistance based on enhancing the strategy.

The Environmental Issue in Relation to Industry Development

An industry and trade development strategy assumes development of certain industries.

 

Such an approach is necessary to sustain growth, create jobs and increase the well being of the community. It is not however an approach that says we develop at any cost.

 

We have a very strong environment policy. We have consistently argued that any industry development proposal must comply with the best environmental standards in the world. That specifically was our test in the instance of the Wesley Vale Pulp Mill.

 

As such it is an approach that aims to find the balance between industry development and the concerns for the environment. Not a half-hearted balance, but a balance which insists on the best known standards being compiled with.

 

Most people would support this balanced approach. But giving it practical effect has proved difficult.

 

Our experience in dealing with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) in the context of logging and the pulp mill issue demonstrated to us how difficult it was to reach agreements on detail past the in principle commitment to achieving a balance.

 

The debate about the mill itself highlighted a further dilemma, that of defining the issue. The proposed mill did not involve the logging of more trees. It was about value adding to the already determined to be logged. A position which the ACF supports. The issue, therefore, should have been about the circumstances under which the mill is built and operates, not whether there should be a mill or not. But many saw the debate in the latter context.

 

My criticism is not against what the conservation movement stands for. I applaud the environmental movement for raising community awareness for making us more conscious of the imperative to preserve and protect our environment, of alerting us to the consequences of the greenhouse effect and the need to protect our natural heritage. I support all of that.

 

But what has to be reiterated is that if we are to prosper we have to develop industry and that in most cases is going to have an impact on the environment.

 

We need a more effective mechanism for interfacing environmental and development interested and resolving the differences.

 

Inherent in the prime ministers statement on the environment is the need to address this balance in what is referred to as “ecologically sustainable development”.

 

We are prepared to help achieve the necessary balance.

 

Our offer therefore is to participate constructively in all resource development areas in achieving the balance. We will deal honestly with groups in seeking to define the real issues and find that balance. It is however impossible to deal with groups who don’t have a mandate to find the balance.

 

One approach is to expand the notion of the Resources Assessment Councils announced last year by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Primary Industries to embrace a concept of Environment and Resource Assessment Councils. They can be comprised of appropriate personnel with access to scientific and technical advice, who hear submissions and make findings on important areas of contention. The CSIRO could assist significantly in the process.

 

The Council’s task essentially would be to make a finding as to the circumstances in which a particular resource development can occur if it is to satisfy the test of stringency ie. Meeting the best environmental standards in the world.

The Challenges of Recruitment and Self Regulation

From what has been said we can boast success to date and for the future in developing a new relevance by responding to the issues.

 

Where we have failed is in our organising response.

 

Whilst we have succeeded in meeting the challenge of the more difficult and complex issues we have failed on the basics.

 

Despite the enormous growth in employment opportunities since 1983 trade union membership has declined and as a proportion of the workforce those in unions now represent 42% compared to 51% in 1976 and 46% when Congress last met.

 

We have failed in three areas. First, we have not responded to the structural shift in the areas of greatest job growth. Second, we have not made sufficient progress in rationalising our structures to better service the growing and more varied needs of our membership. And third, we have not succeeded in developing more effective self regulation to deal with the internal conflicts of the trade union movement.

 

The structure of our workforce has changed dramatically. The greatest growth in jobs has been in the service and white collar sectors amongst women and those seeking more flexible working hours in a number of cases in vulnerable occupations; amongst small business and amongst those in the quasi employee groups. None of these have been traditionally unionised. Without a strategy to explain the relevance of our policies and initiatives to these groups and to organise them unionism will continue to decline.

 

The irony is that whilst developing a strategy which has created the job growth we have failed to organise many of those in the jobs created. In a lot of these areas there is not constitutional barrier to organising them.

 

Unions simply have failed to recruit most of these new areas of job growth and even where membership numbers have increased it has not been in proportion to employment growth.

 

Little wonder the overall proportion of membership is in sharp decline. Again the problem is not failure to address issues of relevance it is a failure to adequately organise around them.

 

Of interest from the recent statistics on trade union membership is the fact that people in unions on average are paid better than non unionists (6.5% more in the case of males and 8% more in the case of females) and that unionists are better covered by superannuation than non unionists.

 

Wages, taxation, superannuation and welfare initiatives of trade union movement will raise living standards significantly in the future.

 

We have a number of policies which specifically tackle particular problems of certain of the segments of job growth.

 

Our emphasis on English on the job as part of Award Restructuring is of importance to many of our migrant members.

 

Our recent success through supplementary payments for low paid workers is crucial to those in the more vulnerable industries particularly women. Extending union superannuation schemes to part time occupations also is an important selling point to women as are our initiative action and the elimination of discriminatory provisions in awards.

 

We have developed teaching kits for schools and been involved in positive youth initiative such as traineeships, work experience and targeted assistance. We not only have the opportunity to make young people more aware of what unions stand for but to explain how we have been instrumental in reducing youth unemployment without cutting youth wages by better preparing them to compete for available jobs.

 

In relation to those taking jobs in the service and white collar sectors our initiatives on taxation and superannuation are of considerable benefit. In addition the development of individual services such as the privilege card with cheaper loans, investment advice, and a range of discounted products and services make belonging to a union more attractive.

 

The union movement can also develop the spread of preference provisions in awards which at present only exist in less than 30% of awards. This and other union security initiative scan be developed as part of the new negotiating environment created.3

 

In the end however strategies and resolutions are only part of the answer . The only way in which union membership will ultimately increase is through active recruitment drives by unions. Recruitment drives which understand the structural shift in employment patterns, which directly promote the union movements response and which meet the specific needs of the groups.

 

People who from time to time see unions as an insurance policy or a mechanism for protection and job security will always be attracted to join. But in an environment of increased job opportunity we nee to promote a wider relevance. Again we have established the strategy to promote but we need to better organise around it.

 

To achieve membership growth amalgamation is an imperative.

 

Considerable discussion around amalgamation has been occurring. Some amalgamations have been consummated, some have failed.

 

But in stark terms, unions have to amalgamate to create more efficient organisations to provide the range of services and the organising capacity to ensure the growth of union membership. Amalgamation is survival, political differences aside it is better to have members in unions than not.

 

If all Congress does is reaffirm the need to amalgamate we will continue to fail.

 

We must resolve to achieve real progress consistent with the direction in our constitution which calls for amalgamation “to establish one union in each industry or sector” through greater authority being given to the ACTU to achieve that progress.

 

The trade union movement also has no obligation to develop a mechanism to resolve demarcation disputes and other matters of union coverage. It is a choice of developing an effective mechanism for self regulation and an agreed discipline or letting unions run their own race and have contentious issues determined by the Company or the Commission. This latter possibility takes on a new significance now in the light of s 118 of the new industrial relation act which gives the commission a power to determine issues of union membership.

 

Greenfield operations pose a particular challenge. Unlike expansion of established operations the non existence of entrenched working arrangements means work organisation can be approached with a clean slate.

 

What can’t be afforded are resources wasted on competing union membership claims when the real challenge is increasing membership. In the final analysis union membership in firms, whether they be in single unions or fewer unions than previously, is better than not having them in unions at all and it is better for us to be determining the basis for organisation than the company.

 

Unless we have an effective mechanism for dealing with disputes; involving acceptance of any ACTU determination; involving swapping of members we are not only going to fail in arresting the decline of union members we run the risk of having reduced influence over appropriate union coverage.

 

Another area of attention is the response of the trade union movement to effectively organise part time workers quasi employees and independent contractors. These areas will continue to grow as new sections of the workforce demand more flexible choices in the way they work, and as there is increasing demand by employers for more flexible labour to meet peaks.

 

These are growth areas which can’t be ignored. Not only do they involve membership potential but by organising them we can ensure that individuals are not being exploited, and conditions not eroded.

 

These therefore are key areas requiring the trade union movement’s urgent attention. They involve a number of contentious issues. Unless we resolve them, unless we develop an effective organising and self regulation discipline our membership will continue to decline.

International

As always we have a number of important international visitors with us at Congress. They will be introduced separately.

 

Congress will also have before it an updated set of Policy Recommendations.

 

Most importantly however is the progress we have made in the past two years in building the means for strengthening trade union structures in the region.

 

For the first time we have developed aid and assistance programmes to meet the practical organisational needs of the region beyond solidary support..

 

Congress has before it, for endorsement, a strategy to further promote this direction. It is a strategy built around responding to the genuine needs collectively determined through peak councils and co-ordinating the response of the international trade union movement.

Conclusion

Delegates, this will be my last Presidential Address to Congress.

 

I thank you for the support and co-operation you have given me.

 

I leave at a time of continuing great challenge to the trade union movement. But I leave confident that we have achieved a great deal to date and we have the commitment and capacity to do more.

 

I leave the trade union movement but not the labour movement. I am making the transition within the labour movement but at a time which has never seen the two wings of the movement operating more effectively.

 

The Accord has forged a quality relationship borne out of common objectives.

 

I am sure this Congress will reconfirm and strengthen that direction.

 

I look forward to working with you in continuing to achieve those objectives in the years ahead.

 

Presidential Address, Simon Crean A.C.T.U. Congress, 1989 Sydney, September 25th, 1989