In my student days I scored a job for a fortnight in a wool store in Invermay.
On day one a stranger started strolling around the shed and asked me if I belonged to the union.
I said no, I'm a student here on casual.
An hour later the foreman told me I had to finish up that day because I wasn't a union member.
It happened a year later when full-time drivers in my cab company called in the union, so I was under pressure to join again.
I approached the union secretary who said he understood my concerns as a part-time student but I had to join. He gave me a sympathetic hearing so I joined.
It made me cynical about unions for years. It took a long time before I formed a view that you were bonkers if you exercised your right not to be unionised.
Nowadays I put unionism, in places of high staff turnover, on a par with house insurance. You're crazy if you don't.
I was surprised the Coalition didn't twig over a decade, and gazump Labor with a basic version of a prices and incomes accord, to deliver a modest wage increase for the worse off. Was never going to happen with a fatigued and weary conservative party.- Barry Prismall
I equally have great regard for small businesses and their vulnerability on competitive wage rates, but for medium-to-big employers, I say to their workers, watch out.
The last major industrial action I was associated with was the great newspaper strike of the early 1980s. It lasted a month, over the demise of the typewriter and onset of word processor terminals.
When I became a journalist there was a greater sense of pride becoming a member of the Australian Journalist Association than actually becoming a journalist.
All that changed when we merged with the entertainment and arts union, the "clown's union" as we called them, and I proudly let my membership lapse.
I think I changed my tune while working for the Howard government in 2007 amid the WorkChoices controversy.
I wanted to put out a statement responding to union claims so I called the Workplace Relations Minister's office for some lines to include in my boss's media release.
"I wouldn't put it out," she said softly.
"Why not, it's an outrageous claim?"
"Trouble is, they're right."
It doesn't mean I've become a raving Lefty.
Far from it, but people who rely on their own skills to protect their income and welfare are merely babes in the woods.
So, while even conservative old me can see the virtue in collective bargaining I'm bewildered why union membership in Australia keeps charging south.
Nationally, membership has plunged from 45 per cent in 1986, to 40 per cent in 1992 and about 14 per cent last year. Extraordinary.
Tassie actually fares better, with 20 per cent union membership but two years ago it was 25 per cent.
Major reasons include workplace changes, higher casualisation, more people working from home, the more aggressive roles of Workplace Standards, and nationally the Fairwork Act that Julia Gillard created, leading to the Fairwork Commission.
These changes are frankly giving unions less work to do.
The era of my nasty experience in the wool store is hopefully long gone.
Unions Tasmania boasts 50,000 memberships through affiliated unions but in Tassie wage incomes lag well below the national average.
Surely, they're doing something wrong.
With historically stagnant wage levels I was confident during the election campaign that one of the major parties would propose a prices and incomes accord with the ACTU, just like the Hawke government struck with the ACTU in 1983.
Anthony Albanese did the next best thing by sticking to his promise to back a five per cent wage increase for the worst paid.
It was a sort of informal accord but they should formalise it, to isolate rogue unions like the CFMEU and give the union movement a seat not only at the enterprise bargaining table, but also a formal input into standardised working conditions.
I was surprised the Coalition didn't twig over a decade, and gazump Labor with a basic version of a prices and incomes accord, to deliver a modest wage increase for the worse off.
Was never going to happen with a fatigued and weary conservative party.
It's fodder for the Rockliff government.
There are a hell of a lot more workers out there who vote, than there are employers.
Much of the workplace these days is covered by the federal jurisdiction, but the state government is the employer of about 27,000 public servants.
You won't win too many friends with an unsustainable bureaucracy.
But you will win friends with policies that properly resource hospitals and schools etc.
And you will win friends by improving their working environment and listening carefully to both employers and unions.
Unions Tasmania's 2022-23 Budget submission covers areas such as workplace safety, job security, wage theft and apprenticeships.
A smart Liberal government would do well to move beyond the usual ambit claim from unions, and explore what's possible in such an unlikely relationship.
It certainly worked during the initial COVID pandemic.
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