Last week, in advance of my debate with Ged Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), at the Council of Small Business of Australia (COSBOA) National Small Business Summit, my blog listed all the things I guessed Ms Kearney wouldn’t say. I listed things like:

  • Admitting the current Royal Commission into trade union corruption is both timely and necessarily
  • Confirming the Fair Work Commission is not fit for purpose, and
  • Acknowledging our employment relations laws are hopelessly complex.

Well, I am pleased to say I was 100% right! Ms Kearney didn’t say any of the above. But it’s what she did say that should send a shiver up the spine of every hard-working small business employer:

  • When told of the concerns many employers have about the risks and expenses associated with unfair dismissal claims, Ms Kearney said ‘there’s more chance of your workplace burning down than losing an unfair dismissal claim’. Oh dear. Not very reassuring.
  • When reminded of the ridiculous findings contained in the International Trade Union Confederation’s recent Global Rights Index Report – which found Australians had worse employment-related rights than workers in Russia and Burkina Faso – the best Ms Kearney could offer was that I had misstated the Confederation’s name.
  • When an audience member asked about the unfair challenges faced by small businesses vs big businesses, particularly in relation to Enterprise Agreement-making, Ms Kearney simply said that Enterprise Agreement-making is a ‘democratic process’. Huh?

While I am certain Ms Kearney is an effective and passionate advocate of her cause, I am equally certain that the movement she leads is hopelessly out-of-touch with the realities faced by both employers and employees in modern-day Australia. If I’m wrong, why has union membership continued to plummet over the past 10 years? It seems to me that reasonable-minded Australians are simply voting with their feet and choosing to have nothing further to do with a movement that has become increasingly focused on power and politics (think Paul Howes, Bill Shorten, and Rudd/Gillard/Rudd).

Australians – particularly those who own small and medium-sized businesses – deserve a lot better.

To be fair, it took courage for Ms Kearney to address an audience comprised of small business owners and advocates. But her speech only served to reinforce my firmly-held belief that unions and small businesses have precious little in common.