By David Bates

The latest union membership statistics released by the ABS confirm two things:

  1. More and more Australians are steering well clear of unions, and
  2. Many unions can’t count (or deliberately choose to miscount) their membership

Starting with point 1, the ABS has confirmed that in the past two years the percentage of workers willing to pay hundreds of hard-earned dollars every year for union membership has fallen from 17% to just 15%.

This is a continuation of the downward spiral in ‘union density’ which has been consistently recorded year after year by the Bureau.

It’s hardly surprising Australians are, in ever increasing numbers, refusing to associate themselves with unionists. After all, watching just one day of live coverage from the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is enough to send a shiver down the spine of most reasonable, hard-working, and law-abiding workers.

And then of course there’s the disregard some union officials have not only for common courtesy, but also for the rule of law.

Whether it be the workplace bullying (which unions claim they oppose), the intimidation (which is against the law) or the corruption (which is ethically repugnant), the truth about some unions – and the more militant officials some employ – is now being exposed for all of us to see. 

And the ABS’s findings make one thing exceptionally clear: the vast majority of Australians (85% of us to be exact) don’t like it one bit.

The real losers here are, without doubt, those decent and committed union officials genuinely trying to do the right thing by their loyal members. They all end up being tarnished by the same brush.

While the decline in union membership wasn’t surprising in the slightest, the response from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) certainly was. 

It appears some of the unions affiliated with the ACTU have in fact been reporting rises in their membership levels. And these reports had given the ACTU hope that membership levels had stabilised. That hope proved to be false.

At the end of the day, unions are becoming less and less relevant to workers, but more and more powerful under our employment laws. They enjoy a unique status under the current Fair Work system, and they effectively control one of the two major political parties capable of forming Government.

Australians – employers and employees alike – would be quite right to ask why our nation remains at the mercy of organisations which represent just 15% of the workforce.