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Union bounty hunters -

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In a desperate scramble to rebuild dwindling membership trade unions are hiring external companies
to recruit members. Some unions disapprove of the private recruiters, who they say sell membership
like steak-knives.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: They'll wait outside offices, find workers in lunchrooms, cold call on
the phone and even knock on doors.

They're the men and women of Work Partners, hired by trade unions in a desperate scramble to
rebuild dwindling memberships.

One employer advocate describes them as high pressure bounty hunters. And some unions disapprove of
the private recruiters, who they say sell membership like steak-knives.

But the unions paying big money to Work Partners are counting new members by the thousand and
beginning to believe they might have arrested an alarming decline in their base.

Tim Palmer reports.

TIM PALMER: Gone are the brass bands, gone are the queens of May Day marches past and for
Australia's union movement, the story of the past four decades is that many of their members have
gone too.

BRIAN HENDERSON, AUSTRALIAN EDUCATION UNION: The union movement was fighting for its existence.

ED HUSIC, CEPU NATIONAL PRESIDENT: I would say it's actually in a crisis and we do need to do
something to arrest that decline.

TIM PALMER: In forty years union membership declined by around 40 per cent.

Ed Husic, national secretary of the Communications, Electricians and Plumbers Union (CEPU), knows
what it's like to see the men and women who made up his membership disappear through outsourcing,
redundancies and contract work.

ED HUSIC: If you take Telstra, for example: in the late 1990s they employed directly about 90,000
employees and in the space of about ten years that contracted to just over 30,000.

TIM PALMER: To stem the bleeding, Ed Husic's union has now embarked on a radical campaign.

STUART MCGILL, WORK PARTNERS: I simply train some of the people who work for unions to actually go
out there and present the benefits in a way that works so that, you know, people hear what they
have to say, which, you know, hasn't always gotten through, I guess.

TIM PALMER: And this is the man the union came to to rebuild its fortunes and its membership and
when it comes to signing people up, Stuart McGill knows the power of pounding the pavement.

He honed his recruiting skills in the world of chugging

Short for charity mugging - street squads signing people to direct debits transformed charity

Stuart McGill once worked with Greenpeace. Now he has a new company - Work Partners - and new
targets: non-unionised workers.

STUART MCGILL (in training session): Just to cap off, what are the key benefits of being in the

TIM PALMER: To succeed he's opened up new industrial relations frontlines, sending his crack
recruiters wherever they need to go to win hearts and minds.

STUART MCGILL: If, you know, there's a stream of people outside a worksite-worksite, they'll go
outside a worksite or any other place, really, where there's people congregating that are mixed up
with a particular worksite. You know, obviously lunchrooms are important, but you know, there's a
range of places where you can find people. I've even gone door-to-door.

ED HUSIC: They'll also cold call on the basis of, you know, if for example, members say "Oh, this
member - or this non-member's interested in joining but has always been, "Well, you know, what's in
it for me? Is this actually going to help? Why should I join a union?" They haven't, certainly,
doorknocked with us, but to be honest, if we had a proposition to be able to doorknock, we would
look at it.

GRACE COLLIER, INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS CONSULTANT: This has never been seen in our country before. We
have never, ever seen before unions hiring third parties to recruit on their behalf.

TIM PALMER: Not everyone is so taken with the idea. Grace Collier runs a consultancy that advises
employers on industrial relations. She says work partners uses high pressure sales techniques.

GRACE COLLIER: A Work Partners employee goes in for one purpose and one purpose only and that is to
get the signature on the card. If they don't get the signature on the first occasion, they will
return again and again and again until they get the signature on the card and until they have that

ED HUSIC: Wow, an employer doesn't like the fact we're going recruiting their employees to join a
union. I... it's a world of firsts, I suppose. They are always going to be antsy about us doing

STUART MCGILL: The reason why it's not high pressure selling is because what is done and what any
union using this kind of process will do is present the benefits of what's involved, so these are
the A, B, C, D, E, F benefits of being involved - the choice is yours.

TIM PALMER: For some of Work Partners union clients the results have been phenomenal. Suddenly
unions that seemed in terminal decline were racking up as many as 50 new members a day.

Bryan Henderson's Australian Education Union boosted its Tafe membership by 67 per cent in just two
years after hiring Work Partners.

BRIAN HENDERSON: Because they were so successful in our TAFE, we extended the recruitment into
schools and our early childhood centres and now across the board they're recruiting about 250
members per week.

STUART MCGILL (in training session): Forty per cent of people, according to market research, have
never been asked to join a union...

TIM PALMER: So what's the secret, according to the man who can get new union members to sign on the

STUART MCGILL: You have an authentic conversation. You know, eyeball to eyeball, about the benefits
that are there. So you have to wear out a lot of shoe leather, you know, talking to people. That's
the key thing that you can never do enough of, essentially.

TIM PALMER: It is salesmanship, isn't it? Sounds like salesmanship.

STUART MCGILL: I would say it's more just simply having an authentic conversation with somebody.

TIM PALMER: There is of course a price to pay.

ED HUSIC: We have a commercial arrangement with them and, if you don't mind, we wouldn't mind just
leaving that arrangement between ourselves and Work Partners.

BRIAN HENDERSON: I won't disclose what our commercial arrangements are with Work Partners. All I
can say is that it's extremely good value for money for the union because the people that we get
sign up on direct debits and they remain long-term members.

TIM PALMER: At least one of the unions agrees it pays Work Partners roughly the first years' dues
-around $500 - to every member signed up.

Is it fair to describe your revenue on that basis, then, as a bounty? It's a bounty from unions for
each member signed?

STUART MCGILL: We're a professional services firm and we charge a fee for our service just like
lawyers or just like accountants do or just like anybody else does, so we charge a union fees for
the marketing services we provide.

No I wouldn't use a bounty. I don't think it's a fair or... I've never heard of such a description,
you know, for a professional services firm.

TIM PALMER: Whatever the business arrangement is or how much of that might be disclosed to those
being scouted, some in the union movement have no time for the Work Partners model.

PAUL HOWES, AWU NATIONAL SECRETARY: A union isn't something you sell. It's not steak knives it's
not Union Shopper, it's not discounted home loans. It is an industrial organisation made up of
working people collectively organising to get a better outcome collectively. It's a whole notion of
what it is to be a union, so my issue with professional salespeople is that you're actually
diluting what it is to be a union.

TIM PALMER: And where some unions dislike it in principle, Grace Collier says employers are
concerned at the practice of recruiting squads trained by a private company getting access to their

GRACE Collier: When the right-of-entry provisions in the legislation were drafted, I'm quite sure
that the intent was never that gangs of predetermined storm troopers on campaigns of shock and awe
enter the workplace in order to wrest control from the employer.

TIM PALMER: Union right of entry was a hot issue when Workchoices was disbanded.

(Excerpt from TV advertisement)

VOICEOVER: And every small workplace in Australia will have to stand back if unions get new legal
powers to tell them how to run their business.

STUART MCGILL (In training session): You can see the power of what you're doing and why it works.

TIM PALMER: If need be, to meet the law the unions say the Work Partners trainees become union
employees before going on site.

ED HUSIC: Clearly the former government didn't want us going in to workplaces asking those
questions, hence the right of entry laws. Bottom line, we comply and we continue to comply and we
will continue to comply with right of entry requirements.

(Stirring brass band music)

Ed Husic says that criticism of Work Partners tactics is a sign that the unions are starting to win
the numbers game.

ED HUSIC: The more success we have, I suspect, the antsier they'll become.

MARCHERS IN UNION PARADE: The workers, united, will never be defeated! The workers, united, will
never be defeated!

TIM PALMER: And right now, more success is just what the unions using Work Partners are ready to
pay for.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Tim Palmer with that report.