Union memberships

August 10th, 2006 at 8:21 am by David Farrar

It is interesting to read that the rate of union membership in the private sector has dropped to a miniscule 9% (was 48% in 1990), yet in the public sector is a massive 68%.

But it is little surprise. You see people get bribed in the public sector to join unions. Here is how it goes. Ministers instruct CEOs to accept a pay settlement which includes a higher level of pay if an employee is a member of the union and on a collective contract. They call this “partnership”. Then your average civil servant, who is by no means dumb, looks at option A of no bonus cash and option B of say $1,500 bonus cash and they choose option B which requires joining the union. So then $400 of the $1,500 goes to the union as a membership fee. And then the union passes a portion of it either directly onto the Labour Party, or they spend it campaigning for Labour in the election. It’s a nice wee circle.

The 9% membership level in the private sector I think shows that most people don’t see the benefits of being in a union outweighing the costs. There are situations where being a union member is a very sensible idea, and I’ve even helped a few people join in the past when they were faced with a “bad boss”. When you are 19 it can be hard to stand up for your rights. As you get older and more experienced you often find you don’t need someone to advocate on your behalf.

The other factor in the low membership might be the buoyant job market. When unemployment is this low, employees can have more power than employers. If you have a crap employer then you find another job and quit. The employer may then struggle to replace you, and hence have a higher incentive to keep staff happy.

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