Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union



ACTU Congress: Unions in the digital economy

The AMWU will join a union review of how well unions are operating in the new digital economy, and how we can better serve the huge numbers of workers in micro businesses struggling through rapid change. 

The review will take a fresh look at different models of unionism and organising - particularly effecting members at firms of less than 10 people subject to the dictates of their big business customers or effected by changes in the new globalised, digital economy.

National Secretary Paul Bastian led a session discussion among over 100 delegates, about the disruptive impact of the digital economy, of new ‘shared economy’ businesses like Uber and AirBnB, and of the impact of technology and automation such as 3-D printing.

He also said over half of AMWU members worked in small workplaces. 

The Transport Workers Union’s Michael Kaine said unions needed to look at powerful corporates such as supermarket giants or Qantas, exploiting fragmented supply chains to outsource, casualise and de-unionise workforces.

He said the struggling workers in small supplier firms may have had more in common with their struggling employers who could be “sacked” – along with their workers – by the giants like Coles they were contracted to. 

These small employers may be our “natural allies” against corporate exploiters breaking union solidarity. 

AMWU State Secretary (NSW) Tim Ayres told Congress the effectiveness of enterprise bargaining had always been problematic for tiny groups of isolated workers – often female, non-English speaking and casualised.

 “More enterprise bargaining isn’t going to solve the problems of those cohorts of people,” said Mr Ayres, who moved the motion favouring the review.

“We need to be working to strengthen and improve their working lives – and in the future that may be through ways that aren’t just enterprise bargaining agreements.”

He said unions faced the problem that digital change was ravaging many lager employers where our membership had been based, while fitting the growth of smaller firms.

All unions need to “think carefully” about a solution, “which can’t be more of what we do now.”

“We have to think carefully about developing a plan which supports and recognises the problems if workers in the new economy,” he said.


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  • Senior Lecturer at WSU. Journal of Sociology. Social class, gender, family, education and work. My views are my own.