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Trade Union Decline: Australia

Sarah Jury

An essay discussing the factors contributing to the steady decline in trade unionism in Australia since the 1980’s and the relevance of unions to workers today.

M G T S 2 6 0 7 : E m p l o y m e n t R e l a t i o n s

W o r d C o u n t : 1 9 8 2

Sarah Jury Trade Union Decline in Australia


There has been a dramatic decline in trade union membership rates across Australia since the 1980s. In 1986, 46% (or 2.6 million) of employees were trade union members; this figure has steadily declined to 19% (or 1.7million) of employees in 2007 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2009). By May 2010 trade union membership had fallen to a record low of 18% (or 1.84 million) of employees and remained steady for the past 3 years (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013).

This essay aims to highlight the factors that have played a significant role in the steady decline of unionization in Australia. It focuses on the changing composition of the labour force, the change in governmental policies, the newly empowered role of management and employers and the structures and activities of trade unions themselves. Evidence suggests that Australians have not become more hostile to trade unions and that they still value the benefits provided by unions (Bailey, Esders, McDonald, & Price, 2010). This indicates that Australian trade unions have a significant untapped potential for growth and with the right structure and

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