Trade Union Ambivalence Toward Enforcement of Employment Standards as an Organizing Strategy
Trade unions in Australia have long played an important role in the enforcement of minimum employment standards. The legislative framework today continues to recognize this enforcement role, but in a way that is more individualistic and legalistic than in the past. At the same time that the law has evolved to emphasize the representation and servicing role of trade unions, the Australian union movement has sought to revitalize and grow through the adoption of an “organizing model” of unionism that emphasizes workplace-level activism. This Article explores how these seemingly opposing trends have manifested themselves in the enforcement-related activities of five trade unions. Considerable diversity was found among the unions in relation to the extent to which and how the unions performed enforcement-related activities. However, all five unions spent significant time and resources on monitoring and enforcing employer compliance with minimum standards and saw this work as a core part of what they do. The case studies suggest, however, that the way in which this work is undertaken within unions and by whom has changed significantly in recent decades. While there was evidence that enforcement work was used tactically by unions in certain cases, this was largely on an ad hoc basis and there was little indication that the enforcement work was integrated into broader organizing objectives and strategies. Overall, the unions were ambivalent, if not skeptical, as to the capacity for enforcement work to grow unions through building workplace activism and collective strength.