By David Bates

I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m not a fan of Australia’s contemporary unionists. While unions once played a vital role representing their members, protecting workplace health and safety, and defending pay and conditions, today they are a shadow of their former selves.

Many unionists now seem to spend a huge amount of their time (paid for by their hard-working members) playing politics, looking for safe seats in parliament, running the Labor Party, and serving their own self-interest.

You might be thinking ‘Ah, but you would say that because you represent employers’. Fair enough (though I did work for a blue collar union some years ago). So let’s see what current and former union members think instead.

Let’s start with ‘union density’, which is the percentage of the working population that actually belongs to a union. As reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics: “Trade union membership has steadily declined over recent years, with 2013 being the lowest proportion in the history of the series.” You can see their table here.

It seems Australian workers are voting with their feet (and their wallets), and deciding the offers of ‘discount shopping’ touted by union recruiters aren’t worth the unions’ annual membership fees.

It’s hardly surprising workers are so sceptical. After all, thanks to a combination of former MP Craig Thomson’s behaviour, the embarrassing antics at the Health Services Union (HSU), and some of the evidence being presented to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption workers are right to ask questions about how their union dues are really being spent by some unions.

But what about that minority of Australians who still belong to unions? Obviously they think membership is still worth it, right? Wrong. Just ask members of the Queensland Nurses Union who, during a recent enterprise agreement negotiation, decided they’d had enough of the union’s tactics and chose to force them out of the negotiations by unanimously choosing to appoint an alternative Bargaining Representative.

As far as I’m aware, this is the first time that’s happened in Queensland, and their new Agreement even contains a clause which records the union’s embarrassing eviction for all the world to see.

But once again, who can really blame these workers. Their union’s State Secretary is currently berating their State Government for risking lives via budget cuts. This from the same union (albeit the Victorian branch) which, during their last round of industrial action, deliberately forced the closure of hundreds of hospital beds.

In the battle of relevance, unions lost a long time ago.