Employers And Unions Don’t Have Exclusivity On Ethical Behaviour
The blogosphere is pulsating with commentary about the Australian Health Services Union and whether or not Federal MP Craig Thomson has or hasn’t done anything wrong. Allegations of misspending on unsavoury ‘private’ services with union credit cards are distasteful and fairly or unfairly, “mud sticks”. However the vast majority of the manufacturing workers I spoke with today saved their vitriol for big business.
They spoke of the growing divide between those who have billions, (they were particularly dismissive of mining and forestry magnates) and those who belong to the poor working class or worse, tragically and unacceptably, live in abject poverty. Unions have performed an essential role throughout our labour history. They have had to fight for what should never have had to be fought for. However they don’t have a moratorium on ethical practice. They don’t always keep the so and so’s honest. Sometimes it’s the delegates and officials who need keeping honest.
I’ve worked across several sectors for 20 years. I have seen the whole gamut like the employer trying to create flexibility in the workforce to remain afloat, nimble or competitive only to be sabotaged by union representatives serving their own self-interest. I’ve seen hate campaigns (i.e. vicious bullying) mounted against managers running legitimate change agendas even where this may put long term worker employment in jeopardy (as often those divisions were eventually sold off or closed down). This is holding a line that fails to take into account the big picture.
I’ve seen incompetent and/or unscrupulous managers who commoditise their people and put them under impossible strain. I’ve also seen delegates on the factory floor threaten and marginalise people happy to do a reasonable day’s work for a reasonable day’s pay. I understand completely the resentment of workers who see executives getting rich off what is perceived to be worker exploitation. However while far too many Australians may really be doing it tough and be understandably envious, it’s not a crime to be wealthy. Union members are entitled to be well represented by people sincere about hearing them and advocating for them; not to pursue their own agenda and not to defend the indefensible. Corruption isn’t exclusive to big business. For people to continue to see the relevance and function of their unions, members have to fight for morality within their own union community or we will see membership decline further. Employers and unions must ethically discharge their duties and be seen to be.