Opposition leader Bill Shorten’s evidence to the Royal Commission into Trade Union Governance and Corruption is not believed by most commentators to fatally wound his leadership nor did it claim his scalp as hoped by the Government. Despite this, it will reinforce the view amongst the electorate that he is a backstabber who can not be trusted.
What Mr Shorten’s evidence did show however was why workers are turning away from unions. The Australian Workers Union of which he was the Victorian state secretary then national secretary of is without the militant tactics of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union or the corruption endemic within the Health Services Union yet still displays an attitude where workers aren’t put first.
On Bill Shorten’s watch a number of companies entered into agreements which strengthened their bottom fline by millions of dollars combined with payments to the union. It appears as though the union’s support for enterprise agreements was able to be bought, with worker’s entitlements eroded away. Shorten justified this by saying the agreements were needed to secure worker’s jobs.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, union membership has declined from the rate of 41% of all workers in 1990 to just 17% in 2013. This is hardly surprising given the evidence Shorten gave the commission and the issues within other unions. Why join a union when your best interests aren’t the focus of the union’s work?
While Mr Shorten’s leadership may not be terminal after his appearance in the commission, the same can’t be said about the future of union membership in Australia.