Relevanceof Unions in Canada
Recommendationsand Conclusion 10-12
Relevanceof Unions in Canada
Tradeunions have played a very important part in improving workingconditions. Their influence was felt significantly during theIndustrial Revolution. While Canadian unions have been active ontheir part, the government and employers have also played their part.Legislation has been passed to ensure the working conditions andwages to workers have been improved. Despite all their achievements,the place of trade unions is less relevant today than it was in theearly years. However, they should not be completely ignored as theystill have a part to play. In order to retain their relevance, tradeunions have to lay new strategies and adopt new policies to guidetheir activities.
Tradeunions have been around since the Industrial Revolution. A lot ofchanges have occurred from that time. Trade unions in Canada are notas influential as they used to be, but they should not be writtenoff. In the last three declines, membership of Canadian trade unionshas been dropping (Cole, 2010). Although the membership in theseunions has stabilized in recent years, this is not a sign of athriving trade union movement. Most of the unions have their membersmainly from the public sector. This essay seeks to answer thequestion whether trade unions in Canada have a place or they are nolonger relevant.
In2011, 30% of the workforce in Canada was part of the union movement.This was a slight increase from the year before. While the privatesector has been growing into different parts of the economy, most oftheir employees are still not unionized. Out of the workers who aremembers of unions, 71% come from the public sector. Only about 16%are from the private sector (Johnson, 2004). Even though the publicsector has most of its workers under unions, this trend may change inthe future. In the current economic conditions, even the governmenthas to reconsider its expenditure. The salaries paid to workers maybe reduced in the future. Again, it will be difficult to hire newemployees in a bid to cut on payroll expenditure.
Whyunions are not relevant
Privatesector workers may remain elusivefor trade union membership. This isbecause, the private sector is venturing into areas where there wereno trade unions previously (Cole, 2010). Therefore, the workers inthese areas may lack the motivation to start fresh unions. The natureof their work requires workersin the private sector to operate indifferent areas. It is not easy to reach workersin different placesand coordinate them into a union. In the past, it was easy to get intouch with workers who were working in factories that employed manypeople. The process of forming a trade union is not easy and it isfaced with very many challenges.
Whentrade unions were being createdduring the Industrial Revolution,there was a good reason for it. The people who owned industries thenhired people from the farms and failed to pay them accordingly orprovide proper working conditions. The government authorities at thattime turned a blind eye on the mistreatment that was meted out on thepoor workers. Even children and women were recruited into theworkforce (Armstrong, 2014). Although there is still need foroversight in the work places, the battle has already been won by alarge scale. Employers have done a lot to improve the conditions oftheir workers. They pay improved wages and provide health insurance,pension schemes among other benefits. With the kind of input comingfrom the employers, there is little need for other people to fightfor the rights of workers. Employers are aware of what needs to bedone to motivate their workers and get the most productivity out ofthem.
Thegovernment has been awaked and legislation has been passed to provideguidance and regulation in the places of work. It is illegal, forexample, for anyone to hire children as workers (Hall-Jones, 2010).The government now intervenes in situations where workers are beingmistreated. Therefore, the relevance of trade unions in advocatingfor workers’ rights has diminished. The government being thelargest employer leads the way in creating an environment that issafe and appropriate for people to work in.
Theactivities of unions have an effect on the whole economy and society.When unions demand increased wages for their members, they lead tothe escalation of production costs. The employer will push the extracost to the consumers who will pay more to acquire the goods andservices they need. When fighting for increased wages, the unions donot consider the effects on the rest of the society or community.They are only concerned withpayments made to their members andnothing more. Many people in the society feel that these unions causemore strain to the society than good (Cole, 2010). Even for unionmembers, the benefit will not last as they will use the increasedwages to buy various goods and services at a higher price. Soon, theunions will be pressurized by their members to demand for higherwages and the cycle continues.
Somecities have been built around an industry or economic activity. Allthe other economic activities taking place there revolve around thefactory or industry in question. If the employees of the company aremembers of aunion, they can hold the entire community at ransom(Schifferes, 2004). This will result in many other problems even forthe union members also. These results can be very serious if thestrikes extend for a long time.
Tradeunions have fought and acquired control in some companies. However,once they acquire control or significant influence, they can bringdown the business. There are many examples of firms that have beenaffected by this kind of interference. GM was once thrivingfinancially but has had problems ever sinceworkers’ unions forcedtheir way into the management (Naughton et al, 2015). The aim of thetrade unions when seeking control of the employing companies is toforce the payment of higher wages whenever they wish. This divertsthe resources of the employer into areas that are less productive.Eventually, a company in such a situation may be forced to closedown. When this happens, even the unionized workers will have to bewithout employment and income.
Theworld economy has become very competitive. There are no companiesthat can boast of having monopolies in their sphere of trade.Governments have been forced to open up their economies to the restof the world. As a result, businesses are now faced with newcompetitionfrom foreign countries. In order to cope and remain inbusiness, these firms are considering doing their business in placeswhere costs are manageable (Johnson, 2004). The cost of labor is oneof the reasons why firms are setting up factories in other places farfrom home. This is not good for the economy as it will have farreaching effects on the workers and the entire economy as a whole.
Dueto the threat posed by unending industrial action to the economy, thegovernment is being forced to intervene and save the situation.Government intervention in many cases will not favor the unions asthe consequences of backing the union are more serious. Employers arealso being tough during discussions (Hall-Jones, 2010). They will notagree on paying more wages without a rise in the output of theworkers. With the government and the private sector fighting on oneside, the unions have a mountain to climb and they have to adjusttheir approach in order to remain relevant.
Apartfrom government intervention, the unions are under pressure to reducethe amount of wages and other benefitspaid to their members. This isagainst the reason why these unions exist. Union members will notaccept to make huge monthly subscriptions only to get a cut in theirpay or contracts that have little or no impact on their lives(Armstrong, 2014). Many members of the public who are not unionmembers also feel that unions are doing more to complicate theirlives than to improve them. Both federal and local governments arecurrently putting in measures to curb the current deficit which putsthe growth and development of unions at stake. The strength of theunions will decline in the future to the grim economic situationprevailing currently.
Formany years, unions have been acting from the outside of companieswhere their members work. In the current situation, unions are beingforced to give their input in the conduct of business by employers.In order to make the payments and give conditions demanded by unions,unions are being asked to play their part in achieving a situationthat will benefits not only the unions and their membersbut theemployers, government, the economy and the whole society at large(Cole, 2010). This means that the unions are supposed to make theirinput and help improve the productivity of their members in theirplaces of work. For example, unions are required to ensure theirmembers’ productivity is equivalent to what they are demanding toget.
Theunification of Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and Communications, Energyand Paperworkers (CEP) is a pointer to the new trend adopted byunions. Perhaps the two unions have sensed the treacherous path aheadand decided to pool their might together to avoid being swept away toirrelevance. Bigger unions may not be enough to change the currentsituation. There are many other unions that have merged but failed intheir endeavors (Naughton, et al, 2015). The unions can address theproblems facing the industrial movement and use their resources toresearch and get the best solutions to the current problems facingthe union movement.
Mostof the current and past trade unions have been formed after a lot ofvery hard work. Many people were severely punished for agitating forthe formation of unions. This did not kill the determination of theworkers to have their interests taken care of. When the workersjoined these unions, they clearly understood what they fought for andwhy they were joining the unions. Today, most of the people beingemployed may not appreciate the existence of the unions (Schifferes,2004). Therefore, they do not commit to the unions totally when theybecome members. Most of them will even fail to make theirmonthlysubscriptions when they have no problems. This can derail theactivities of the unions due to lack of sufficient funds.
Manyworkers join unions for the sole reason of getting higher wages fromtime to time. The environment has been very tough and employers inpublic and private sectors have toughened their stand when it comesto negotiations. As a result, most of the negotiations have notyielded the results expected by the union members (Hall-Jones, 2010).In some cases, unions have been forced to drop wage concessions. Thisis notencouraging and it may be reason why workers are not eager tojoin the workers movement. They consider other avenues that will helpthem make their conditions at work better.
Asnew unions are formed or old ones coming together to form largerbodies, the question of their relevance remains. The trade unions oftoday will be operating in an environment where many more before themhave failed. These defeats and failures should be the guiding lightin the way forward. Unless the unions are clear on what they want toachieve and make appropriate adjustments, there will be problems infuture (Armstrong, 2014). The environment in which they have beenoperating is going to remain the same. It is for the unions to makethe necessary adjustments that will ensure their continued existence.Unless the unions make the necessary adjustments they will be forcedto live according to the terms laid down by employers.
Unionsare still useful
Whiletrade unions may seem to be irrelevant, they should not be writtenoff. The main reason why unions were formed was to ensure workers gotthe pay they deserved. A lot of improvement has been made in thisarea. However, there is need to remain vigilant and ensure the gainsmade so far are not lost. The wage increase may not have an impact onthe lives of the workers. The increases have been generally lowerthan inflation. Therefore, the increased amount will quickly beswallowed up by inflationary conditions (Johnson, 2004). In thisregard, workers unions have to remain in place and fight formeaningful pay increases. Some employers may not be very willing topay adequate salaries to their workers, to improve their profits andreturns to their investors. Therefore, unless someone keeps watch onthe employers all the gains made will be lost. Unionized workers gainmore than $500,000 in wages over their working lives more than thoseworkers not members of any unions.
Theworking conditions have greatly improved in many cases. However,there are some situations where the conditions may not be to thelevel expected of modern working places. The unions can play agreatrole in ensuring workers conduct their duties in the rightconditions. Companies in the private sector and public sector mayneglect their workers unless there is someone to keep watch on them(Cole, 2010). It is the responsibility of authorities all levels ofgovernment to ensure there is enough legislation to regulate thelabor market and ensure the interests of workers is taken care of.The entry of foreign companies may be a challenge in this regardsince they may not be aware of what needs to be done in the new areaof operation.
Sincethe circumstances have changed so much against the work of theunions, it is important for them to adjust accordingly. Many unionsacross the world have adopted new strategies that will help themretain relevancein the labor market (Armstrong, 2014). Merging,renewing programs and being better organized are some of theadjustments the unions can make to remain in business. Most unionshave their membership drawn from one sector. They can havediversified membership by approaching workers in other sectors of theeconomy.
Thenew union by CEP and CAW promises to breathe new life into the labormovement. It promises more organization and mobilization ofemployees. The leaders of the union promise to make it a strongsocial movement that will fight for the interest of all workers invarious places in Canada (Cole, 2010). This brings a lot of hopetomany people who have been waiting for such a development for a longtime. The unions behind the idea should be congratulated for what hasbeen achieved so far. The idea has the potential to change how theunion relates to workers who have been affected by restructuring thathas been taking place in the labor market. This has idea has beenadopted by a number of unions across the world, such as CTA inArgentina.
Thoughthe idea seems good, the proof of its value is in its implementation.Unions have to rethink the way they relate with their members andother components in the environment of their operation. New ways andapproaches of doing things have to be developed. Workers unions haveto adopt betterorganization methods in order to accomplish theirobjectives. The new larger union will have more resources to help itconduct its affairs better. The union is setting aside 10% of itsresources to this end (Hall-Jones, 2010). This is about $10-millioneach year. The envisaged level of organization will not beachievedwithout involving other players in the labor market. Manyunions are lost in the race to recruit new members. When they havethe numbers, they fail to have the structures to deliver the expectedobjectives by their members. Workers who want to join a union willnot be attracted to any that does not promise to deliver theirexpectations. A union that aims to win new members shoulddemonstrateitsability to organize towards the common goal of alltheir members.
Tradeunions have been roughagainst employers in order to get the resultsthe want. This is no longer necessary as the environment havechanged. It is advisable for the unions to developan approach ofcooperation rather than hard tackling (Naughton et al, 2015). Unions,employers and the authorities should work together to find the bestfor the workers. When each side takes a hard stance, the result willbe unending labor disputes that will disrupt the economy of theentire nation. In the event of a standoff, the workers are thelosers. Therefore, unions should soften their stance and find freshapproaches to help improve the working environment for their members.Employers and the government have done a lot to ensure workingconditions are safe for all the types of workers.
Thetraditional role of trade unions may have gone under very challengingcircumstances. Although the odds are against trade unions, theenvironment is ripe for its rebirth. Currently, the wages being paidare not very encouraging (Johnson, 2004). There are very many peoplewho do not have jobs at the moment and there is no job security forthose who are employed. This is enough fodder for unions torevitalize themselves and remain relevant. When unions started to beformed, there were similar social situations. Therefore, employersshould not develop in the current condition of the unions. They havethe capacity to rise from their ashes and become powerful voices likethey once were.
Inconclusion, trade unions have played a very crucial role in ensuringthe rights of workers are taken care of. During the industrialrevolution, people were exposed to very dangerous working conditions.Women and even children were forced to work in the factories for verylittle wage. The environment was very hostile and many of them losttheir livesor suffered serious injuries. There was no compensationpaid for the lost lives or life changing injuries. This situation ledto the formation of unions but there was a lot of resistance at thebeginning. After years of struggle, the trade union movement wasfinallyaccepted and was legalized. In the early years of theirexistence, trade unions grew from strength to strength. However,their popularity among workers has been dropping in recent years.This is largely because a lot of improvements have been made at thework place even without the intervention of trade unions. Legislationhas been passed to take care of this. This makes trade unions lessrelevant than they used to be before. There are fewer workersinterested in joining trade unions. Despite this, trade unions stillhave aplace that in the current situation. It is better now fortradeunions to be less combative and be more cooperative with otherstakeholders in the labor market (Schifferes, 2004). The best way forthe union to be more attractive to new members is to be moreorganized and demonstrate their ability to achieve what the workersexpect. This approach will change the attitudes of potential memberswho may have negative ideas about the unions.
Armstrong,D. (February 12, 2014). JakeRosenfeld explores the sharp decline of union membership, influence.UWToday.RetrievedMarch 6, 2015. See also: Jake Rosenfeld (2014) WhatUnions No Longer Do.HarvardUniversity Press.ISBN
Cole,G. D. H. (2010). Attemptsat General Union.Taylor& Francis.p. 3.
Hall-Jones,P., 2010.Unionism and Economic Performance.Internet article &statistics. Available at:http://www.newunionism.net/library/member%20contributions/news/Unionism%20and%20Economic%20Performance.
Johnson,S., 2004. An empirical examination of union density in six countries:Canada, Ecuador, Mexico, Nicaragua, the United States and Venezuela.Washington, DC, USA: Inter-American Development Bank, ResearchNetwork Working Paper £R-487, p.5, available at:http://www.iadb.org/res/publications/pubfiles/pubR-487.pdf
Naughton,K., Doan, L. and Green, J. (February 20, 2015). Asthe Rich Get Richer, Unions Are Poised for Comeback.Bloomberg.Retrieved March 6, 2015
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