Posted: August 30th, 2022

An analysis of decline in union membership in Australia

Assignment 1

Type: Individual Report

Wordcount: 2000 (10% +/-)

Scenario: You are a researcher working for Senator the Hon Tony Burke, Federal Minister for Employment and Workplace
Relations. Senator Burke has asked you to undertake some research on trends in union membership in Australia. He has just returned from a meeting of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), where he learned that Union membership in Australia is still experiencing a decline. Politics aside, he is keen to find out what factors are causing this decline and the implication of the decline for labor market regulation in Australia – and for Federal Government policy in this area.

Instruction: Burke has asked you to explore this decline in union membership in Australia and provide a report. In particular, he has asked you to:

  • outline the magnitude of the decline in union membership in Australia over the last 40 years
  • explore the academic research and commentaries to outline the four main antecedents (or causes) of this decline in trade union membership
  • discuss the implications of these findings for the process of collective bargaining in Australia.






  • An executive summary
  • Graphs or tables demonstrating the magnitude of union decline in Australia over the last 40 years or so
  • Clearly marked sections outlining the 4 main antecedents (or causes) of union membership decline, supported by key studies and commentaries from academics and other labor market commentators
  • A concluding section identifying the implications of your findings on the process of collective bargaining in Australia, supported by clear reasoning.
  • A reference list of the sources referenced in the report (APA referencing style)
  • Include a minimum of 10 references(within 10 years)
    Academy of Management/APA referencing style is preferred

Reading list

  • Bray, M., Waring, P., Cooper, R and MacNeil, J.  (2018) Employment Relations:  Theory and Practice.  4th edition, Sydney:  McGraw Hill, Chapters 1 ,2 ,3,4 ,5,6





Example Report structure

Executive Summary

Table of Contents

P1: Introduction

P2-3: Evidence of union membership/density decline

P4-5: Reason #1

P6-7: Reason #2

P8-9: Reason #3

P9-10: Reason 4

P11: Conclusion

  • In the face of declining union membership, are unions an important feature of Australian Employment Relations?
  • yes? Why?
    No? Why?



Why is union membership declining?

  • Dramatic change in the structure of Australian industry:
  • What is the structural change? What has driven this structural change?
  • Growth of part-time and casual employment:
  • Need evidence of increasing part-time/casualisation
  • Part-timers and casuals are less likely to join unions – why?
  • Trend towards smaller and more dispersed places of work:
  • Need evidence of this trend – Gig economy?
  • Need evidence that unionisation is lower in small and dispersed workplaces
  • Attitudes to work and to collectivity have arguably changed, people pursue individual solutions to their workplace concerns rather than Unions for protection and identity:
  • How does this link to our earlier discussion of unitarism versus pluralism?
  • Reflected in the diminished role of unions in the enterprise bargaining process?
  • Potential for different models of advocacy for employees?





There are five main groups of reasons why trade union membership has declined:
  1. Changing nature of work. Traditional full-time employment has decreased. Job losses in public sector and manufacturing. International phenomenon.
  2. Diversity of people in paid employment. Greater numbers of women in the workforce and women workers – like younger workers (Bailey et al. 2010) – have shown less inclination to unionise. Also some migrants not inclined to unionise
  3. State of economy and level of unemployment. If unemployment is high and business profitability low, people less likely to join unions.
  4. Unions heavily regulated and also slow to adjust to the changing external environment and new demands from actual and prospective members. Further, they have not been able to quickly utilise new technologies for recruiting and organising new and existing members, (Moody 1997, Cockfield 2002).
  5. The political and legal protections that Australian unions had for much of their history led some, such as the AWU, to rely heavily on political and arbitral strategies, rather than organising members. Slow to adapt to new realities.


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