14 June 2019

The Centre for Future Work’s Dr Jim Stanford has published a new research report, Union Organising and Changing the Rules: Two Sides of the Same Coin. It notes Australia ranks poorly on the World Economic Forum’s index of labour rights, and there is a strong link between union membership density and labour rights. Stanford warns the union movement not to throw the baby out with the bathwater in reviewing the ‘Change the Rules’ campaign: “While there are a few countries with strong labour rights but relatively small unions, there are no exceptions in the other direction: that is, there are no countries where labour rights are weak, but unions are strong anyway. [I]t is apparent that there are no countries in the OECD which have attained union density equal to 20% of the workforce or higher, without demonstrating a WEF workers’ rights score of 80 or higher. The significance of this finding for Australia (with a workers’ rights score below that threshold) seems clear: in order to successfully rebuild union density, and obtain the resulting benefits for workers, Australian labour advocates must also win significant improvements in labour laws and basic union freedoms.”

(This follows Stanford’s colleague Alison Pennington’s call for a bigger vision — in my view the technical changes Stanford wants must be linked to that vision if there is any hope of winning public support for them.)