A new survey of community attitudes to trade unions shows wide public support for trade unions – with the majority of Australians saying they would be in a trade union if they could.

The nationwide poll of 1,100 people, commissioned by the Labor Council of NSW shows a firm trend in positive attitudes towards trade unions. It was carried out earlier this month by Sydney University’s Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training and follows similar surveys in 1996, 1997 and 1999.

It found that:

  • a majority – 52 per cent – of people agree with the proposition that “I’d rather be in a union” (up from 44 per cent two years ago)
  • only 14 per cent of Australians now agree that “Australia would be better off without unions” (down from 23 per cent in 1999)
  • and 56 per cent of respondents agreed that “management has more power than unions” (up from 53 per cent two years ago)


Labor Council secretary John Robertson said the survey lays down the gauntlet to the Howard Government as it prepares to attack the trade union movement to gain political mileage.

“This survey challenges the popular wisdom – pushed by the likes of John Howard and Tony Abbott – that trade unions are on the nose,” Labor Council secretary John Robertson said.

“This survey indicates that – given a freedom to choose – most workers would be in unions. This begs the question – what is the Howard Government doing to help them exercise their freedom of choice.

“I am aware of numerous examples of unionised workers being actively discouraged, discriminated against and even intimidated.

“There are many employers pushing the line that to be a union members is to be disloyal to the company. In the worst cases, workers who join trade unions have their hours cut and career prospects diminished. We will be bringing examples of these cases to light in coming weeks.

“Often these policies are being implemented with the active support of the Howard Government’s employment advocate – which after five years is still to launch a prosecution for victimization on behalf of a trade union member.

“While the Howard Government tries to cash in on stereotypes of violent building workers it is turning a blind eye to the more subtle violence being perpetrated day in and day out on ordinary workers.”