Union Rights Boost Set to Enhance Workplace Cooperation

Australia Institute Centre for Future Work

Media release | Monday, July 1 2024

New rights for volunteer union delegates are set to make workplaces more, not less, cooperative, according to a new analysis by the Australia Institute.

The changes coming into effect from today – under the federal government's Closing Loopholes Act – guarantee the rights of volunteer union delegates to represent workers and paid training leave.

The Centre for Future Work's Carmichael Centre analysis found employees wanted their union to cooperate with employers and vice versa, and that giving workplace delegates a greater voice made this more likely.

"Those who claim that guaranteeing the rights of union delegates must lead to greater conflict are dead wrong," said Professor David Peetz, research fellow and author of Employee voice and new rights for workplace union delegates.

"Workers expect their union and employer to cooperate effectively to solve problems, and reach agreements over pay and conditions, in both parties' mutual interests.

"Well trained delegates are best-placed to represent workers. They don't acquiesce but they do cooperate. After all, they know it's in workers' interests for workplace productivity to rise."

The paper found this could help boost productivity, which on average was at least as high in unionised as in non-union workplaces. Strong representation and consultation made workers less resistant to productivity-boosting technology including artificial intelligence.

In the past, many volunteer union delegates have been obstructed from properly doing their job to allow employees' voices to be heard in the workplace. Now, their rights will be guaranteed.

However, the report also warned unions not to waste the opportunity provided by new rights for paid training leave.

"If they use it just to emphasise getting more 'bums on seats' in classrooms, ahead of taking a holistic approach to education, they won't get anything new out of it," said Professor Peetz.

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