Trade unions fire back over claims of declining membership

Australia’s key mining union has disputed recent claims by industry lobbyists that union membership is on the decline.

Australia’s key mining union has disputed recent claims by industry lobbyists that union membership is on the decline.

The Australian Mining and Metals Association (AMMA) CEO Steve Knott released a statement this week which questioned the role unions continued to play in Australia, referring to ABS data which claimed coal mining union membership had declined to 28 per cent.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division general president Tony Maher said Characteristics of Employment report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics was inaccurate, compared with CFMEU membership records.

“I looked at the membership records this morning and union density in coal mining has increased from about 40 per cent to over 50 per cent in the last year," Maher said.

“At the end of 2014 our Division had 19,500 members in the coal industry out of a total industry workforce of 40,600 – that’s 48 per cent of the workforce in our union alone.

“These numbers do not include the membership of other unions such as the AMWU, ETU and Professionals Australia, who each have members in the mining industry.”

Maher said the ABS had been wrong about union membership in the past, and must have made a sampling error in the latest report.

“We don’t blame them for that because they don’t have full information, but it does serve to feed the fantasyland the AMMA lives in,” Maher said.

“The simple fact is that the ABS doesn’t have full information and it doesn’t consult with the only organisations which do have full information about this issue – unions themselves.”

“The union membership rate in coal mining has actually been going up as the industry retrenches lots of workers.

“There is good reason for that – unions have successfully fought for Enterprise Agreements which provide workers with better pay and conditions and safer workplaces – we give workers strength in numbers against very powerful foreign multinationals like BHP and Rio Tinto.”

The AMMA pointed out overall trade union membership had declined from 16 per cent to 12 per cent over the year prior to August 2014.

“Australians are no longer working in an economy where one-in-two people belong to a trade union,” Knott said.

“The longer our workplace relations system ignores this fact, the longer it remains a barrier to employment and economic growth in this country.

“In the iron ore mining sector, for instance, only one in every 15 employees is a member of a trade union.

“Yet the architects of the Fair Work Act were so obsessed with propping up the influence of unions that the laws basically pushed the unions’ conditions on all iron ore employees.”

Knott said more options for individual and collective bargaining without the involvement of trade unions should be available, for a flexible workplace relations system.

“This should include statutory individual agreement making, subject to a no-disadvantage test, similar to those that provided value for both employees and employers during the Howard-era.”

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