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Report to the minister for understanding the employment and workplace relations in Australia

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In this report, various statistical snapshots have helped to outline the major fall in trade union membership in Australia over the past 40 years. In this report, the writer has made use of the latest data available so that the primary causes of the decline can be showcased with the help of statistical data and graphs. When looking into the data of the last four decades it can be found that the Australian trade union members have had a steady fall which never got to rose up to its former position (Schnabel, 2020). As per the data found in the year 2016 it can be stated that back then there were just 1.5 million members when compared to the members in 1976 which was more than 2.5 million. Thus from here, it can be found how drastically has the membership fallen with the passing years.

Demarcate the Degree of Decline in Australian Union Membership for the last 40 years

The decline in the trade union membership was initiated in the year 1992 and is still in the process. With the onset of 1992, it was found that the proportion of employees who were members of trade unions fall to a considerable level (Price, 2018). The degree of the fall was different for men and women, the member for the former fell from 43% to 13% while for the latter it was 35% to 16%.

From the above table, it can be clearly stated that the trade union membership has major declined for over 40 years. It fulfills both the part-time and full-time workers criteria along with the data of the subsequent years. However, it has been found that with the increase in age the trade union membership seems to get hiked. From the data gathered in the year 2020, it was known that about 5% of the employees were aged 15-19 years, and around 6% of employees aged 20-24 were found to be members of the trade union. While the rate of employees aged from 55-59 years and 60-64 years were found to be 23% and 25%.

The reports suggest that the number of younger workers was less than that of the older workers as the younger workers were found to be less likely to stick to the industry they workers in order to gain greater experience (Gilfillan and McGann, 2018). The younger workers were found to be inclined towards the part-time working system (, 2018). As per the ABS data, it can be stated that the young employees aged from 15-24 years were found to be part-time workers while the employees aged above 25 showed the higher result in being full-time workers.

As per the data gathered from August 2020, out of 10.4 million employees a total of 14.6% were found to be a member of trade unions concerning the mainstream job which was found to have decreased from its previous rate which was 14.6% in the year 2018.

According to the history of the trade union, the majority of members of the trade union have been found to be in the position for five years and more. However, women have been found to have been in greater proportion than men which is 55% for women and 45% for men (, 2017). The data that have been gathered from the 19th century have has subsequent fall while the union got to witness a hike in the membership since 2003 (, 2018). The biggest decline was witnessed in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union which fell by 52%. The Community and Public Sector Union fell by 52%.

From the above figure, it can be noticed that the union density has started to decline not just from one particular industry but from every arena of the working field present in Australia (Laß and Wooden, 2020). The industries that had a stronger presence of union membership like manufacturing, construction, and mining have had a significant fall as showcased in figure number three. However, the fall in some industries like Education and training, Public administration and safety, and social assistance along with health care have been found to have a smaller decline as compared to the other industries.

Four Major Antecedents for the Decline

According to the data highlighted in the Australian Bureau of Statistical figures, there are four major antecedents that show the decline in union membership despite all the efforts initiated by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (Visser, 2019). The most relevant antecedents for the recline of unionism have been elaborated by David Peetz as he put forward four factors that include the structural change in the labor market, rising inequality, institutional factors, and response of the union to the implementation of strategies for the new employer.

The change in the stricture of the labor market deals with casualization which hiked the number of part-time workers. This change also stated about the development of industries and the rising number of occupations those having considerably low density and the growing alternative employment and self-employment arrangement. These factors have been one of the sole causes for the decline of the union trade membership. However, in order to test the impact that these factors had on the trade union, Peetz made use of ‘Shift Share’ analyses. Having used this technique Peetz could conclude that these factors caused the decline over the period of 1982-92. Furthermore, these factors had their impact during the first phase of the decline which in the later years did not seem to have had any major contribution.

The second cause deals with the institutional factors. The institutional changes also created a platform for legislative changes which ended in having an adverse effect on Australian unionism. The factor further acted in de-collectivizing the relationship between the employers and the employees and ended up impacting the recognition of the union. These factors have been one of the key antecedents that led compulsory unionism to fall (Peetz, 2018). With the introduction of institutional factors, the unions started being dependent on the provisions of the law thus making them vulnerable when dealing with the radical legislative changes. According to Peetz's opinion, it has been found that the then legislation focused on eliminating compulsory unionization which further encouraged the workers to look for non-award coverage and bargaining facilities thus this ended up in the consequent surge in Australian union membership.

During the period of the 1980s, the legislative measures made it compulsory for the people to be a member of the union which has mentioned in the employment condition. However, in the 1990's as the people were freed from the condition of employment they preferred opting out of the union membership.

According to the third antecedent, the growing inequality in earnings of the people led to the fall in union density (Peetz, 2021). To understand this cause it is significant to recognize the core aspect of the cause which clears out the aim of the union. The union aims to have greater pay compression as well as generate higher wages. Thus through this, the union gets to provide equal hikes for all the workers on the weekly basis. However, the technological changes brought inequality in the earnings of the workers which forged a coalition between the workers who are low and highly paid.

The fourth and final factor is the response of the union to the implementation of strategies for the new employer. As this factor has been overlooked for a long period of time thus the union failed to come up with adequate measures to deal with it (Brander-Peetz, Peetz and Brough, 2021). Although the attitude of the Australian union towards the members has not been as ruthless and aggressive as compared to the American Union yet the members started to follow the American style of going anti-union. The poor strategic ideas of the union made the situation go even worse which resulted in expensive coverage disputes between the Australian Union and its members.

In this context, it can be stated that these factors made the Australian Union have an adverse effect on the membership of the union. Some factors are said to be external and exogenous in nature which caused the issue in shaping the future of the Australian union.

Applicability of the findings for collective bargaining in Australia

The strategic approaches of the Australian union failed drastically in the past decades due to its poor implementation process and the rigid outlook of the members towards the changes. Earlier in the year 2020, the union came up with the concept of collective bargaining but as the pandemic situation arose followed by the lockdown protocols it changed the lifestyle of the people. Thus the long-term impact of the collective bargaining approach remained unclear (journals.sagepub, 2021). Hence, the official data based on the Australian union collective bargaining and collective agreement can be found until the month of June of the year.

The data that the collective bargaining and collective agreement suggested content modest changes which showed a minimal hike in non-union agreements and a slight reduction in coverage as well as the incidence of collective agreements. These implementations also lead to deterioration in the growth of the wage that further continued to have fewer disputes in the industries. In the context of collective bargaining and agreements in relation to each of the industries led a platform to create diverse processes and have greater changes compared to the suggestions of the official data.

The initial phase of the trend of collective bargaining has had to witness a decline. This decline gave rise to two uncertain situations; the first situation highlights the fact that the decline of the trend took place due to temporary factors while the other states that this decline might have consequences for long-term structural factors. Having considered Peetz's findings of the four factors of decline this approach of the Australian Union, aimed to gain back the members and have a considerable hike in the coming years (journals.sagepub, 2021). This new agreement was executed having covered 2,156,600 employees. Although the level of coverage was below expectation yet it was found to be better than its previous coverage that was held before mid-2019.

Even though the pandemic situation caused serious issues in the practice of collective bargaining trend yet it continued its long-term and conscious efforts so that it can work for the development of a cooperative relationship with the members and boost its density. It came up with FWC New Approaches by having initiated Aruma for the development of the employment process and Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies. The union put extra effort to remunerate the members so that they can respond to the changes (Gooberman, Hauptmeier and Heery, 2019). The FWC also provided the platform to the members in which they can opt to have interest-based approaches for negotiation that further denoted the fact that it would go with the non-binding policy even after the recommendation is accepted by the members. Although this approach gained a success to some extent yet it revealed the agenda of the employer which stayed focused on cutting off the liberty provided by collective bargaining.


This report is meant to be executed so that it can assist the Minister in understanding the employment and workplace relations and the reasons which led to the decline in the Australian trade union membership with the onset of the year 1992. There have been several reasons why the union lost its members gradually. However, the four major causes that led to the decline have been pointed out in this paper along with the relevant data that has been found from various academic journals and various labor market commentators. The paper has also outlined the degree to which the Australian Union Membership had declined along with the help of statistical data based on the demographic classification. Furthermore, discussing the implications of the findings in order to incorporate the process of collective bargaining has also been put forward so that the report can be made an informative one.

References, 2020. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Trade union membership. [Online] Available at: Trade union membership, August 2020 | Australian Bureau of Statistics ( [Accessed on: 19/08/2022], 2018. Australian Parliament House isopen to the public. Trends in union membership in Australia. [Online] Available at: Trends in union membership in Australia – Parliament of Australia ( [Accessed on: 19/08/2022]

Brander-Peetz, N., Peetz, D. and Brough, P., 2021. Turnover intentions, training and motivations among Australian union staff.Economic and Industrial Democracy, p.0143831X211017216.

Gilfillan, G. and McGann, C., 2018. Trends in union membership in Australia.

Gooberman, L., Hauptmeier, M. and Heery, E., 2019. The decline of Employers’ Associations in the UK, 1976–2014.Journal of Industrial Relations,61(1), pp.11-32.

journals.sagepub, 2021. Journal of Industrial Relations. Unions and collective bargaining in Australia in 2020. . [Online] Available at: Unions and collective bargaining in Australia in 2020 - Mark Bray, Johanna Macneil, Leslee Spiess, 2021 ( [Accessed on: 19/08/2022]

Laß, I. and Wooden, M., 2020. Trends in the prevalence of non-standard employment in Australia.Journal of Industrial Relations,62(1), pp.3-32.

Peetz, D., 2018. The labour share, power and financialisation.Journal of Australian Political Economy, The, (81), pp.34-51.

Peetz, D., 2021.

ng Paper, Geneva.

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