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Are unions as bad as business?


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Employer unions, employee unions or unethical business. Who's worse?

Criticism of unions is ubiquitous. It seems that support for them is falling faster than their memberships – and in some cases, deservedly so.

Who's worse, member unions or business? Picture: Supplied.

Who's worse, member unions or business? Picture: Supplied

There are certainly some unions exhibiting behaviour that does their staff, members and community no favours at all.

Among the unions with the most to answer for are the CFMEU, AMA, The Pharmacy Guild and the Business Council of Australia.

There have been any number reports of appalling behaviour by the CFMEU. While I do not buy the Federal Governments view that the CFMEU owns the ALP', I certainly buy their criticism of the union.

Many do not consider the Australian Medical Association and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia unions, but unions they are. They aggressively represent their members, even when they are pretending to argue for what is best for the community. There is surely no more self-interested union than these two.

The Business Council of Australia represents businesses responsible for some of the most unethical behaviour imaginable. It is a union, as are the chambers of commerce and industry. These organisations are doing all they can to deliver as much as they can for their members. They are unions!

They are all unions and they all represent members who have unenviable records in terms of unethical behaviour. Consider, for example:

  • Coca-Cola Amatil selling a soft drink with six spoons full of sugar to children
  • Coles having to pay $12 million dollars after pressuring suppliers
  • Optus having to pay a $3 million fine after being found guilty of misleading advertising
  • BHP Billiton having not treated victims of the Samarco dam slide as well as they could
  • McDonalds and Hungry Jack's actively contributing to the obesity epidemic
  • Pharmacists selling homeopathic remedies that are not proven to offer any beneficial effects
  • The long list of complaints about and problems with the Commonwealth Bank
  • And the list goes on and on.

    This short list and the much-extended one are, for me, evidence that no matter how bad employee unions may be:

  • There are any number of employer unions that are no better
  • Business is every bit as unethical and poorly behaved as any trade union
  • Frankly, I see no difference between an employee union and an employer union. Both are doing what they can for their members, irrespective of the impact that may have on other segments of the community. In a sense, that is the job of all unions – employer and employee. Further, I would argue that the more self-righteous the union, the worse they are likely to be – and the AMA and Business Council of Australia are as self-righteous as unions get.

    Not all businesses are unethical. But equally, not all unions are unethical. There are good unions and bad unions – ethical businesses and unethical businesses. There is good and bad in each group. Further, I would argue that the community and government puts far more effort  into attacking unions that it does poorly behaving businesses.  

    The current Federal Government is all too eager to attack any union, or the movement as a whole, while resisting a royal commission into the banks.

    I saw no problems with the building industry royal commission. I think one into the banks is every bit as justified. 

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