ACTU Congress 1993 and the goals and strategies unions are putting into place to achieve Best Practice and Effective Unionism. Martin Ferguson, President ACTU.
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Thanks for inviting me to this, the Australian Hotels Association inaugural National Convention.
Twenty-one days from today – at almost exactly the same time -1 will give the opening speech to the 1993 ACTU Congress; which will be held at the Darling Harbour Convention Centre in Sydney.
I will address most of my talk here today on what I think will be one of the key issues at Congress.
But because of the headlines on TV, and in the papers, I will also spend some time talking about workplace bargaining.
This is a topic I’m sure many people here, in the hospitality industry, want to hear about.
In recent years I have worked very closely with the hospitality industry.
I believe that some sections of this industry – such as the Sheraton Hotels people – have been pace setters in the development of workplace bargaining.
They have created positive models by involving their employees; good pay structures; good training and skills programmes; and working with unions to create permanent jobs and career structures.
The Sheraton Towers Southgate Employee Relations Agreement is seeking to create the highest quality of accomodation standards which will become a benchmark in quality service standards for Sheraton Pacific Hotels in the Pacific region.
I know the employees and the union are proud of this pacesetting workplace agreement, which of course has its hiccups, but is also fast becoming a model of a service oriented culture which all hospitality employers will want to copy.
The ACTU Congress
The ACTU Congress – which meets every two years – is the highest decision-making body of the Australian union movement.
The 1993 Congress will – for many people – be seen as a victory Congress.
Many of the 1000 delegates to Congress will be able to state:
” Well, I have been part of some big battles over the last few years. I have helped to win those battles on behalf of the people I represent – the ordinary working women and men of this marvellous country.”
As the ACTU President I will congratulate all those delegates for their work – especially their top class work in the Federal election campaign.
The election victory and another important (but under-reported) victory, the restructuring of Australian unions into fewer unions, gives us a platform for real growth into the 21st century.
After all, the start of the 21st century is only six years away.
Let me remind you of the importance of the restructuring of the union movement.
The number of federally registered unions has fallen from 143 in 1989 to 72 in May 1993.
If all our plans succeed by the beginning of next year there will be only 52 federally registered unions.
That will means 17 large federally registered unions and a limited number of smaller unions, many of which have plans for amalgamations.
Ninety-eight per cent of workers covered by federally registered unions will be in the 17 large unions.
Now I don’t want to pretend to anyone here that these ‘fewer unions’ are the complete answer.
At the 1993 ACTU Congress we will have to face up to the post amalgamation challenges of this important, but as I said, under-reported victory.
At Congress we will have to look at strategies to make these -new unions into effective unions.
The six key elements to Effective Unionism are – as far as I am concerned – unions able to:
1) recruit and organise new workers into unions that are seen as vital and growing;
2) build democratic structures to involve all their members;
3) create more responsive and flexible mechanisms to meet their members needs;
4) provide new, relevant and valued services to their members;
5) better communicate their causes to members, potential members and the wider community; and
6) build an active membership prepared to get involved in the wider community debates promoting the union cause;
Now here I must make a frank admission to all of you at this convention.
In the recent past I – and many other union officials – have been very good at lecturing management about the need to implement Best Practice.
I do not know how many speeches I have made over the last few years telling employers that if they are to survive on the international market – and therefore keep my members jobs alive – they must implement International Best Practice.
Now it is time for the union movement to look at itself, and honestly admit, that too often we do not set Best Practice goals for ourselves and our members.
The 1993 ACTU Congress will have to face up to that question.
I believe Congress will set down goals and strategies to achieve Best Practice…. to achieve Effective Unionism.
Effective Unionism – Element One:
Of the six key elements to Effective Unionism that I listed just now, the number one issue for unions will be recruitment.
Our bad practice of the recent past – I am sorry to say – was to wait for people to come to us to ask to join the union movement.
Sometimes we actually made it very, very hard to join a union.
Too often we spent only a minimum of time, and resources, going out to recruit non-union workers to our movement.
One estimate I have seen suggests that as little as 5-10 per cent of a union’s resources is directed toward recruiting new people.
That will have to change if we are to achieve best practice Effective Unionism.
At this Congress we will start building a new recruitment culture which is based on an outreach program, especially to the young, but also to women and non-english speaking workers.
Unions who are not used to doing market research, and implementing the results of that research, will have to get on the bandwagon.
Unions will have to look at employing new types of recruiters
young people can better recruit other young people;
women can better recruit other women workers;
immigrants can better recruit other immigrants.
Unions will have to look at modern telemarketing and direct-mail campaigns to get new members in small workplaces.
Or they may have to look at innovative ideas such as recruitment ‘competitions’ which the nurses and finance sector unions in this country have been using very effectively over the last couple of years.
Now you ask what is the ACTU role in all of this?
I must say it is limited. In the main each union must do it for themselves because the style and type of recruitment strategy will, of course, depend on the different work cultures, different values and work practices in each industry.
But that does not mean the ACTU cannot do anything at all.
Over the next two years the ACTU will train between 100 and 200 young people – straight out of universities, colleges, TAFES and apprenticeships, or other community groups – who are committed to the union movement; committed to helping us recruit to unions other young people.
These flying squads of highly motivated young recruiters will go out and sell our message to key groups of young workers in growth industries, growth industries such as the tourist industry in this state!
All these new recruiters will be under 25 – at least half of them will be young women and there will be a fair representation of young people from different ethnic communities, as well as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.
All of them will be put through a special induction and training course lasting about six to eight weeks, then they will be sent out as part of supervised flying squads of recruiters concentrating on particular campaigns.
The young recruiters will not be ACTU employees but will be attached to unions who have significant growth potential – growth potential among young workers in offices, shops, the tourist industry, hotels and restaurants, telecommunications, information technology, the health sector and of course the manufacturing export sector.
The ACTU will also study a proposal for a national union telephone information service to help people join up with our movement.
As I have said before sometimes we in the movement can make k very, very hard for a person to join a union.
A restaurant worker in Sydney – who genuinely wants to join a union, but has had no contact with unions before – could find it quite hard to join up ….. especially because she or he would never find Restaurant Workers Union in the telephone book.
Their union of course is the Australian Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union.
Why would a secretary in Brisbane – who also wants to join a union – necessarily know that their appropriate union is the Australian Services Union.
The ACTU could set up a national free telephone information service – and promote it heavily through telephone books, local suburban papers, radio and television – to help direct these people to the correct union.
The services of an ACTU-sponsored telephone information service could be also be made available to our affiliates to support their own recruitment and telemarketing campaigns.
And this telephone information service could work as an important back-up service to our new ACTU trained flying squad of young recruitment organisers.
You know that in the United States of America there used to be a great old union rabble-rouser called Joe Hill – many songs have been sung about him, especially his execution by a hostile state apparatus.
Old Joe Hill had one slogan when others thought things were getting tough:
” Don’t mourn, organize”.
After the ACTU Congress I want our people, who find recruitment too hard, to go away with a modernised version of Joe’s slogan; to adopt as their unofficial slogan:
” Don’t whine, organize.”
Effective Unionism – Element Two:
Recruitment will be the number one issue at Congress.
But it is not good enough to recruit new people.
We have to then keep these people in the movement and get them involved by creating new and democratic structures which allows everybody to get active.
Members are our lifeblood. We need to develop more ways for people to contribute and feel involved.
We need to create new, inclusive, democratic structures to involve union people who normally find it hard to participate in traditional union forums – women, young people, part-time workers or Non-English Speaking union members.
We have to look at this issue creatively and accept the fact that these groups don’t take part in the usual forums for a range of different reasons including: time; confidence; language abilities and support services.
We also need to look at ‘letting go’ the decision-making in the union movement down to the rank-and-file.
One bad effect of amalgamated unions has been to get rid of several sets of decision-making players.
Take a new union which is the amalgamation of say five unions.
Before you had five committees making decisions. Now you have one.
You have virtually four sets of players disappearing.
And on the other side you have got one set of players trying to make important decisions which once used to be made by up to five times as many people.
To counteract this we have to adopt a People Power ideology.
We must push the decision-making rights down . down the chain of union power so as to involve more and more people.
We have to give local union committees real power and real substance.
And leaders, like me, have to make ‘boundary decisions’.
At some point, however much I may disagree, I have to say:
” Well that is what they decided, the leadership has stated its view, provided guidance … but it is their right to make a decision”.
Effective Unionism – Element Three
An important part of this new democratic structure is to create a more responsible and flexible mechanism to meet members needs.
This can be as simple as making sure that the union telephone doesn’t ring and ring and ring – and nobody answers the call.
Or if they do answer the call they get met by a rude or completely unhelpful response.
I think most people in this audience will understand this issue. They have to face it in their industry. And if you don’t handle this issue properly …. well, market forces prevail.
The hospitality industry is a service industry and, let’s admit it, we in the union movement are also service providers.
So if we don’t handle this issue properly….. well, market forces will prevail.
We will not attract new people to unions, or keep, for long, our current members.
We in the union movement should copy the type of training that a good member of your industry gives to its employees; training to make sure you can provide a good quality service.
Like your companies we too should be able to set up benchmarks to measure how well we meet our members’ needs. We need to be more service oriented.
We too in the union movement should be able to create a process to handle complaints and other similar expressions of member dissatisfaction.
An effective union should be able to create a strategy to improve the quality of their services based on an effective handling of complaints and membership dissatisfaction.
Effective Unionism – Element Four
I have talked before about the need to do quality market research.
I don’t think that this should just be used merely as part of a recruitment strategy.
I should be used by our affiliates to effectively provide new, relevant and valued services to their members.
This market research needs to be done in such a way as to find out not just what services the union member needs today – but what they may need tomorrow.
We must predict the changes – and delight the union member with our far-sightedness.
As I have said the union member is changing – just as the nature of work is changing.
Union members are no more just that traditional – base blue-collar, male, full-time breadwinner.
A little over a month ago the ACTU launched in Brisbane the latest ACTU service which involves a special Union Visa card. This card not only helps to provide cheap bank loans but it also acts as a discount identifier on a wide range of products.
More than 1.2 million union people across Australia – in seventeen different unions – now have access to this important new service.
Oh, by the way it provides access to some good quality cheap holidays in this and other states of Australia.
Effective Unionism – Element Five
Australian unions must adopt better ways to communicate their causes to their members, potential members and the wider community
Australians are great consumers of magazines. I am told we are the world’s biggest consumers of women’s mags.
Therefore as unions we must make sure that we satisfy the sophisticated tastes of our members when it comes to communicate our message to them.
I must say that the evidence is in.
And the evidence is positive. Unions are creating different and better ways to communicate to our members – all the time.
Next week I will be chairing the ACTU Congress’ Media Prize committee.
We have been giving this prize out now for the last three Congress’ and the quality of the work is improving all the time. The Australian Teachers’ Union; the LHMU; the ASU; the Flight Attendants Association – all have good quality communications tolls for their members.
Even, I am happy to say, the ACTU produces a good quality quarterly magazine WORKPLACE for opinion makers – both inside and outside the union movement.
The ACTU magazine has operated as a benchmark for some of our affiliates as they seek to produce a quality journal as good, or even better, than the one we produce.
I know that some people at this convention already subscribe to our magazine just to keep up to date with what the ACTU and our affiliates are thinking. If you are not getting WORKPLACE you should think about subscribing.
That’s the only sales plug I’ll put into this speech, I promise!!!!
But we need to look at other ways of communicating to our members; and we have to look at how we can use our communication tools to activate our membership.
Obviously some of our private and public sector members have easy access to computers.
I think increasingly you will see unions using computer discs an de-mail as ways of communicating quickly and efficiently to union members.
Effective Unionism – Element Six
In this country, we in the union movement have believed that we should be active in the fight to ensure that the political, economic, environmental and social structures of our society are just, and of benefit to all working people.
Unions, I believe, must continue to ensure there ability to impact on public policy and their ability to influence community attitudes.
Over the last decade the Accord has played a key role in ensuring that unions and their members can influence change in our society – changes towards our social justice values.
I believe increasingly we must now build a new active membership prepared to get involved in the wider community debates promoting the union cause.
This is the natural result of the process of both building large well-resourced unions and putting a new emphasis on workplace bargaining.
The role and influence of the ACTU will wane.
Our affiliates role and influence will increase.
But I believe that the role and influence of our affiliates will only increase if they create an activist culturde within their organisations.
The activist culture will be greatly helped if we have created democratic structures – as noted in Effective Unionism … Element Two; and if we have created new and better ways to communicate to our members as noted in Effective Unionism … Element Five.
The activist role should not be left to just union leaders and full-time employees of the union.
Our organisations can help nurture and extend our democratic institutions by developing ways to support union members who take part in community debates.
Our unions need to look at ways of providing new resources to help members put an articulate union position, when they participate in a wide array of social and political movements.
One of the lessons I came away with from the last Federal election is the new political power that unions can bring to bear if they would only more regularly and strategically activate their members when it comes to political battle.
Life other lobby groups we must create quality information banks, based on the new technologies, which carefully record the real interests of our members; what makes then angry and how we can get them active around particular issues.
In this last Federal election some unions, for the first time, looked closely at their membership lists and found that they had a disproportionate number of their members in key marginal seats.
They made sure that these people understood what were the concerns of their unions – what would be the very real problems for working people – if a Hewson government were elected.
That was an important innovation. And I expect unions will become increasingly more sophisticated in this area of politicking.
Obviously workplace – or enterprise – bargaining has made a few headlines in recent months.
Last week the ACTU met with the Federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Laurie Brereton, to discuss his plans to introduce important new IR laws into this country.
We also want these new laws to improve, enhance and protect award rights.
We have an unparalleled opportunity because, I believe, the Federal election gave this Government a mandate to improve on our unique award system.
I believe that both wings of the labour movement – the industrial and political – want to clearly differentiate our attitudes to workplace relations from that of the Liberal-National ideology.
Our people, labour people, believe in the award system as a guarantor of decency in the workplace.
But that does not mean we should not explore ways to further improve the productive capacity of our economy based on a new and evolving system of enterprise bargaining.
An enterprise bargaining system where the negotiation process is protected by a legal minimum – the award system.
Now the reason why unions have drawn a line on non-union enterprise bargains is that we believe that they are poor cousins to enterprise bargains negotiated by unionised workers.
The evidence is already in from both NSW and Victoria – where the state award system have been virtually destroyed – the quality of enterprise bargains produced without a union role is way below the quality of union bargains.
Because the reality is that these non-union bargains are a sham. There are no real talks, or negotiations.
The boss puts a piece of paper on the table and says: Sign or else.
For most unorginised groups of workers this style of bargaining is essentially forcing them to face a terrible process of intimidation – overt or covert – which is leading to lower wages and working conditions.
If we allow this sham of non-union enterprises bargaining to spread inevitably (if we don’t have award protection guarantees) we would see the award safety net threatened.
As wages and conditions are forced down by unscrupulous elements new pressures could be brought onto the award safety net – the whole fabric of our civilised way of handling industrial relations could tear asunder.
As far as I am concerned only unionised workers will provide a real reason for companies to grapple with the issue of maintaining and improving wages and conditions; hand in hand with maintaining and improving productivity and creating a new export culture.
That’s the type of positive enterprise bargaining I believe in. Win-Win for all.
But left alone, without unions, capitalism’s natural inclination is to hack away at working peoples’ wages and conditions.
Nobody should pretend otherwise.
In fact capitalism – as we know it in Australia – needs the checks and balances that the union movement provides.
That’s why Australia’s democratic culture has recognised for so long our legitimate role.
That’s why in this country we have created pooud institutions that have protected the conditions of working men and women.
I am wary of importing into our country industrial relations cultures which are inimical to the interests of the people I represent.
Australians are – in the main – not hostile to the union movement. By the statement may I say include Australian employers.
We Australians understand that unions have a genuine, democratic and proud role to play in our society ….. that role is to civilise capitalism.
I am sure nobody in the labour movement – industrial or political – will stand by and see our country adopt a workplace culture which instils the types of terror and phobia which you can see for instance – let’s be honest – in America.
There you can sometimes see normally smart entrepreneurs act in the most irrational of ways, employing gun-carrying stooges to frighten their workers into de-unionisation.
Millions of dollars are wasted in fighting employees just because they want to join a union!!!
And some very ugly rough-house tactics are used. By both sides!!!
I don’t want that type of society.
I am sure most of the people in this audience don’t want that culture.
I am sure nobody in the labour movement – industrial or political – will stand by and allow policies or laws to be adopted in this country which will make de-unionisation simple.
No laws will be introduced into this country which will entice employers to create a new niche industry – professional de-unionisers.
Thankfully our smartest employers realise that if real workplace bargaining is to happen they must show that they appreciate their workers as an asset; that we all need to be concerned about training and worker involvement in the decision-making process.
In fact increasingly Australian unions are making input into the real decision making a condition of talking about productivity changes in the workplace.
Thankfully we are moving away from the old Taylorist modest which divided work in to the simplest constituent parts.
In the new model we are creating, workers’ brains are valued and used.
That is essential for the workplace of the next century – or the workplace of today, for that matter.
But it is here that unions have a real role to play in the modern workplace because many workers – quite correctly – have the attitude:
“If I give the company all my good ideas I’ll work myself out of a job; they’ll use my good ideas to get rid of me.”
Job security needs to be built into enterprise bargaining and an understanding that the purpose of crating a more efficient workplace is not to get rid of workers but to enhance jobs through training and skill development… and provide a higher level of employment security.
The best guarantor of all of this is the workers’ union.
Union involvement in workplace bargaining will provide the security for everybody tat the bargaining is real and it is not underhanded cynical exercise just to cut back jobs and cut away at pay and working conditions.
For Australia to survive; for this country to become a modern export oriented job-creating society we have to build a new partnership based on positive labor-management relations which guarantees the rights of a worker and her or his union.
Speech by Martin Ferguson, ACTU President. Australian Hotels Association, 1993 National Convention, Conrad Jupiter’s Hotel and Casino, Gold Coast, Qld.