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Questions raised over ongoing relevance of un -

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Questions raised over ongoing relevance of unions

Broadcast: 24/07/2008

Reporter: Josie Taylor

Will the Rudd government deliver Workchoices light? That's the fear of one union leader who's
attacked the peak union body, the Australian Council of Trade Unions for being too soft on the
federal Labor Government. Yet unions themselves are facing questions about their own relevance and
influence with membership declining amid tough economic times.

Transcript

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Will the Rudd Government deliver "WorkChoices Light"?

That's the fear of one union leader who's attacked the peak union body, the Australian Council of
Trade Unions, for being too soft on the Federal Labor Government.

At the same time, unions themselves are facing questions about their own relevance and influence,
with membership again declining amid changing economic times.

Josie Taylor reports.

JOSIE TAYLOR, REPORTER: The unions and the Rudd Government were once brothers in arms, on a mission
to abolish WorkChoices.

Now, some of the foot soldiers are unhappy.

KATHY JACKSON, HEALTH SERVICES UNION: We feel that we're not getting the outcome that was promised
to us before the election. Now they've been elected, now they need to discharge their commitment to
the electorate, and I mean totally discharge that commitment by tearing out WorkChoices. If it's
going to be something else and something in between - "WorkChoices Light" - then they need to tell
us that.

JOSIE TAYLOR: In a report leaked to the media this week, Kathy Jackson attacked the nation's peak
union body, the ACTU for not taking it up to the Rudd Government. She savaged President Sharan
Burrow as "incompetent" and too friendly with Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

KATHY JACKSON: I stand by the comments in that report, but it wasn't a report ever intended for
public consumption.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Sure, nonetheless, you did describe her as technically incompetent and too friendly
with Julia Gillard. Is that the case?

KATHY JACKSON: Well, once again this is not about Sharan Burrow and Kathy Jackson; this is about
the union movement getting the best outcome for our members.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Sharan Burrow wouldn't be drawn on the personal nature of the report. She says
negotiations over the repealing of WorkChoices are in progress.

SHARAN BURROW, ACTU PRESIDENT: It's our job to be the advocates of working people. It's the Prime
Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister's job to actually get the balance right. We have a very
different role, and it isn't about friendship, it isn't about relationships right across the board.
It's actually about whether or not we're doing our job.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Kathy Jackson says she's not alone in her views and other union leaders want to
toughen up their dealings with the Labor Government.

KATHY JACKSON: It's about the union movement being able and strong enough to stand up to the
Government to say there is no Accord; this is about holding you to your commitments that you made
to the electorate before the election, where you said and they all said they were gonna tear up
WorkChoices. If we get anything less than that, then there's been a big con.

SHARAN BURROW: Look, if any union has a concern, they know they can pick up the phone, they can
come and knock on our door.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Julia Gillard says her relationship with the ACTU is sufficiently robust.

JULIA GILLARD, DEPUTY PRIME MINISYER: Both Sharan Burrow and Jeff Lawrence from the ACTU are strong
and feisty advocates on behalf of the cause of unions and working people. That's their jobs, that's
what they do. I don't always agree with them, but they always put their view very strongly.

JOSIE TAYLOR: Former Mark Latham and Kim Beazley adviser Michael Cooney says the Rudd Government is
at a crucial stage in its relationship with the unions.

MICHAEL COONEY, POLICY DIRECTOR, PER CAPITA: And that was the power of the campaign in 2007 as that
there was this strong shared opinion, the unions and the Labor Party in Government. Now they want
to repeat that trick and do that again, but do it on a positive agenda.

JOSIE TAYLOR: But can a positive agenda turn around dwindling union memberships? Australian Bureau
of Statistics figures show that just one in 10 young employees has union membership, and fewer
workers of all ages are signing up.

MICHAEL COONEY: All around the world this is a big problem for unions. They are shrinking and they
are looking to find new workplaces where people are represented and also to get into growing areas
of the economy, in the services and in technology work in particular. And that is a difficulty for
them and I think they're responding in different ways, but time will tell.

JOSIE TAYLOR: For the union movement, the clock is ticking.

Josie Taylor, Lateline.