Enjoy the long weekend? I love long weekends, and who doesn't.

Monday 3 October was Labour Day - a public holiday in New South Wales since 1885 to commemorate the significant triumph of the trade union movement to introduce an eight-hour working day. It wasn't a gift from the employers, who fought it tooth and nail. Like they do every advance.

While I don't want to get into some silly discussion about only people who believe in the purpose of the day being able to take it (like Christians at Christmas or Easter - although both were pagan festivals well before Christianity - monarchists on Queen’s birthday etc) but I think it is important to recognise the origins of the day and celebrate them.

depa is a trade union. The Industrial Relations Act 1996 registers us as an "industrial organisation of employees" these days and, while our sole focus is on the interests of professional employees, we're still, nevertheless, a trade union.

Under NSW law there has been a very hands-on management of industrial relations for much more than a century between organised employees and organised employers. The NSW Industrial Relations Act still encourages representation through organisations and while every now and again someone thinks it's a good idea to provide individual access to the Commission, it invariably doesn't work.

The John Fahey Liberal/National Government thought it made sense to provide individual access on unfair dismissal. While they were motivated by removing the monopoly that unions had to make application, what they did do was to open the floodgates to all of those hopeless cases that would ordinarily be weeded out by a competent union.

Remembering, of course, one of the best things the union can do for its members is to tell when it’s not a good idea to do something. The Commission was overwhelmed with people sacked for a variety of reasons trying to run their own cases, not understanding the system and, very often, simply incapable of functioning in the adversarial environment an application for unfair dismissal provides.

Up until the late 1980s, there was a preference of employment clause in Local Government Awards that provided, all other things being equal, if there were two applicants for a position, the union member should get it. Regarded as intolerable by the Coalition Government, preference clauses were removed.

We didn’t worry about that too much. Preference of employment clauses made unions lazy and we were quite happy to accept the challenge of providing accessible good services with good value to encourage employees to join and, once members, to remain.

Local Government is a difficult industry to recruit to a trade union. Ask our delegates, they're doing it all the time. “Why bother?” is what many employees think when they get all the benefits of the Award or the relevant Enterprise Agreement whether they are a member or not. The unions negotiate the Award and it applies to everyone. Ideally, that's not a great business model because it means that those people who are prepared to pay into the union subsidise and provide benefits for all those people who aren't.

We wonder sometimes how freeloaders feel about this. Taking a benefit that their workmates have been responsible for introducing without a second thought.

At a council like Orange, freeloading is chronic. Orange many years ago took the view that everything that was required by the Award to provide progression based on competency was all too hard and it was better to pay everyone at the top of the scale, or even more for a few additional hours, and be done with it.   They EA used the Award as the base.  Without the Award, the Orange EA would not have been developed.

It's hard to recruit members at Orange in circumstances like that because even though all their entitlements were based upon an Award which we negotiated and additional entitlements in an Enterprise Agreement to which we are a party, they continue to thumb their noses at us and all those members who made it possible.

Union Picnic Day is a provision in the Award which is available only to union members. Some councils apply it as the Award intends but some councils provide it to everyone - another freebie courtesy of the unions and all the freeloaders’ workmates.

Like pinching things from the shop when everyone else is paying, I don't get it.

That's one of the reasons why the local government unions invariably oppose those councils which think it makes sense to put a representative of non-union members on the consultative committee. What, the rugged individualists want a collective of all the rugged individualists now, do they?

This is the consultative committee introduced into the 1992 Award pretty much against the wishes of every single Council and every single general manager - all horrified at the idea of the workforce needing to have a say in how the business was run. That was a real victory for organised labour. Why should we share it with the freeloaders, don't they get enough already for nothing?

I had a great long weekend and I hope you did too.  I hope you gave, or now can give, a little bit of thought and recognition for all the battles that have gone before - even back to 1885 - to get the sort of employment conditions, workers compensation, compulsory superannuation that many of us now simply take for granted.

And thanks for being a member and making all of these advances possible.

Nicole Power
Thank you Ian, I loved reading your article. People easily forget how our wonderful working conditions come about. It's a pity the "freeloaders" aren't privy to your article, if so, their conscience may get the better of them and they may decide to join a Union.
Michael Alexander
I recall a number of years ago that I was part of a work group that was under attack & being underpaid. United we stood and achieved the right outcome; a victory we all shared in (& backpay). This would not have been possible without Ian - thanks seemed so little & Robbo takes it as a days work. We would not be the group we are if not for his determination.
Then later under contract employment I was to be held responsible if I died; another argument that Robbo won with amendment to the contract; also inclusion that recognised the award at minimum.
The non believers should consider what conditions could be lost at short notice ie cars, conditions then think of who would take on the fight for you. I also think we should have a position towards those that only join when the proverbial hits the fan (maybe a qualifying period like health insurance).
Keep up the great work Robbo & enjoy all weekends & RDO's & picnic day etc

Al Welch
I know many might not want to but if you look a bit further back, there was a time when ‘trade union’ was synonymous with Christian morality; such notions as justice, equity, fraternity which in England were born out of Methodism deriving from the spiritual state of the nation during the industrial age. The idea that all men (and women!) are created equal, and are entitled to be treated fairly. Nurture the roots of a system and the tree will remain strong.
Phill Motbey
Robbo, I cannot help but agree after witnessing some years ago now you tear apart the comments of the Council HR manager in the IR court on my behalf. United we stand. Eureka!
Andrew John Phillips
I have been a member of a trade union since I began my apprenticeship as a carpenter and joiner.
I have always beleived in the labour movement but not in communism or fascisam.
It is unfortunate that the ALP no longer looks after the interest of the worker but the multinational money makers. When I was young my father used to hang around with people like Pat Clancy, Tom MacDonald (and others of the BWIU - now the CFMEU. During the past sixty years I have seen the union movement move from supporting the worker to supporting the interests of the ALP (which is not the same thing). Just think before we as a trade union support a political party just for the sake of it. In the early trade union movement it was the worker, the family and the country, not just the Austrlian Labour Party that does not care about the family but its own gains. It was treason to the trade union movement that allowed 'Bob Hawke' to knife the workers with his wages accord. Please take this in the correct spirit.

Les Green
Well done Comrade another fine example of your editorial splendor for the depa archives.

It's a shame that we can't get the 'freeloaders' (nice alternative name) to join.


Luke Joseph


John Britton
Hear hear Ian,
Better to have a union fightinbg the battles that not, I say. Yes, I enjoyed the long weekend and all the other benefits fought for. At Shoalhaven Council, at least it is only union members who get the Picnic day leave. hooray.
Keep up the good work.

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