Q1/ Unions are important institutions of employee representation in some countries, but not in others. Why? Your argument should provide evidence from at least two countries.
To answer the first question, I would like to choose two OECD countries to compare: Australia and United States. We suggest a most important indicator to measure if trade union is important institution of employee representation in a country is its union membership density over years. According to the OECD statistics, the trade union membership in Australia used to be very high in the 1970s (about 50.2 percent)(Blanchflower, 2006). Although the membership has been decreased substantially after the 1990s, the number in 2013 was still slightly higher than the OECD average level (17 percent vs.16.9 percent). By comparison, the trade union membership density in the United States was only half the density in Australia in the 1970s (23.5 percent vs. 50.2 percent). In recent years, the density in the United States is one of the lowest between OECD countries (10.8 percent in 2013)(OECD StatExtracts, 2013).
To find an explanation of the difference, we find it necessary to analyze what determinants may influence trade union membership, and if the countries differ significantly in these determinants.Schnabel (2003)indicated that various determinants in determining trade union density, including macro-determinants (like economic and political factors), micro-determinants (like social attitudes, occupation, industry and firm characteristics) and institutional determinants (like the characteristics of trade union). In terms of the comparison between Australia and United States, we suggest some possible factors in determining the difference in trade unions’ employee representation between the two countries: economic factors,
Economic factors: in Australia, its national economy had long been under state direction and the protection of high tariff before the market reform in the 1990s(Bray, Waring, & Cooper, 2011). Therefore, the market was less competitive in Australia than in the United States. In the United States, Owing to the long history of free market economy and more competition pressure, employers have stronger desire to cut the labor costs led by trade unions.
Wealso suggest that the respective significance of different industry in Australia and United States’ national economy contribute to the difference in union density between the two countries. For example, in Australia, the mining industry is a significant contributor to Australian economy, this industry has a long tradition of unionization and high union membership. Trade unions in Australian mining industry are also very active(Sadler, 2004). In the United States, high technology, finance and other service industries are more important in the national economy. These industries are usually ‘white-collar’ in which trade unions have difficulty in organizing membership(Blanchflower, 2006).
Political factors: apart from employers’ strong influence on politics, the political support to trade unions is also an important factor. In Australia, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and trade unions have a stable and long-lasting political alliance, because the ALP was formed by trade unions(Bray et al., 2011). By comparison, in the United States, trade unions’ alliance with political parties has never been as successful as in Australia(Davis, 1980), and they has never successfully formed a political party acting on their behalf.
Trade unions: In Australia, the peak body of trade union, Australia Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) is the unique, stable peak union that represents workers and trade unions. This organization also has high political status and coalition with political parties. For example, it used to participate in regulating wages in the period of “Accord” in the 1980s(Bray et al., 2011). By comparison, in the United States, trade unions never have a strong and stable peak body to represent them, some organizations, like AFL-CIO, are not only loose, but also compete with each other (Masters, Gibney, & Zagenczyk, 2006).
Employers: In Australia, employers in public sector used to have very strong influence. Blanchflower (2006)’s study across OECD countries shows union density usually tends to be much higher in public sector than in private sector. By comparison, United States has a long history of free market economy, their employers, especially for those in private sector, have higher socioeconomic status than many other countries. They also have enough resource and lobby power to influence politician and legislation in order to pro-employer policies on their behalf. This is why employers that have strong anti-union stance, such as Walmart, can thrive in the United States. These employers usually take aggressive measures against unionization, for example, (Mehta & Theodore, 2005)pointed out more than 23,000 workers were fired or penalized for union activity each year in the United States.
Besides, employers’ strong demands for avoiding trade unions even leads to the development of a union avoidance industry in the United States(Logan, 2006), which is composed of consultants, law firms, industry psychologists and strike management firms, provides consultancy service for employers against trade unions and industrial actions. The union avoidance industry is a good example of employers’ influence, resource and anti-union attitude in the United States.
Q2/ Focusing on China OR the USA (that is, ONE of these countries ONLY), consider whether temporary migrant (guest worker) programs foster efficient and fair employment relations. Your argument should provide evidence to support your answer.
To answer this question, I firstly would like to choose the case of temporary migrant workers programs in agriculture in the United States, then I found it necessary to make the answer from two perspectives: efficiency and fairness.
According to statistics, around 90 percent of farmworkers in U.S. agriculture industry are immigrants(Martin, 2002), and 25 percent to 50 percent of them are illegal(Baragona, 2010).They mostly come to the United States by two ways: some of them come some official immigrant workers programs, and the others come illegally.
The earliest immigrant workers’ program in agriculture industry was Bracero program, which aimed to resolve the labor shortage and keep the food supply in the WWII(Martin, 2002). Nowadays, agriculture employers prefer to use immigrant workers (both legal and illegal) because:
Resolving labor shortage: for Americans, farmworkers’ job is the worst choice they can make. According toBaragona (2010), when United Farm Workers union offered farm job to people unemployed, only three people out of thousands of inquiries accepted the job. To resolve the labor shortage is also an important reason for U.S. government to make other legal immigrant workers programs, such as H-2A program, after the Bracero program(Martin, 2002).
Saving costs: agriculture employers usually face intensive pressure for saving costs, especially when they face the competition from imported agricultural products from the 1990s(Oxfam America, 2004).
Avoiding trade union: because agriculture employers know while American citizens are more likely to organize, immigrant workers even do not know who trade unions are and what they do(Martin, 2002).
In terms of efficiency, I would like to suggest that temporary immigrant workers program in the United States works well on the behalf of Americans, the immigrant programs in agriculture industry provide us a good example to see how the system keep the constant supply of cheap labor to help agriculture business operate efficiently and contribute to the overall economy.
Firstly, the influx of immigrant workers helps agriculture employer to resolve the issue of labor shortage and keep the operation of agriculture business.
Secondly, their cheap and hard labor contributes to the explosive growth in output and sales in agriculture industry since the 1980s(Oxfam America, 2004). According toRuark and Moinuddin (2011), agriculture industry was the most profitable sector in the U.S. economy over the years between 1998 and 2008. Besides, cheap agriculture products also led to the prosperity of food service industry, such as fast food stores, in the United States. Cheap agriculture products and foods not only help American people spend less money on eating, but also helps Americans to export to other countries to earn profits.
However, while immigrant workers, both legal and illegal, make great contribution to the U.S. agriculture and economy. The way they get treated does not match their contribution. I would like to suggest although temporary immigrant worker program are by and large efficient, it is not a fair system, because it does not guarantee immigrant workers fair wages and humane working conditions. The situation of immigrant farmworkers also provides us a good example:
Take the example of their wages, the survey from (Human Rights Watch, 2005) revealed that farmworkers in Florida earn much lower (from $2,500 to $7,500 per year) than the poverty line of single household ($9,310 per year).Oxfam America (2004)also pointed out while agriculture industry and labor market in the United States were both prosperous between 1989 and 1998, farmworkers’ average wage fell by 10 percent. Moreover, other people indicated that the existing wages earned by farmworkers was insufficient to maintain basic living standards for American citizens(Ruark & Moinuddin, 2011).
Temporary immigrant workers usually need to work extremely long time. During the harvest, immigrant farmworkers are usually forced to work 10 to 12 hours a day, 7 days a week without basic overtime payment. Moreover,they are neither well trained nor well equipped to avoid potential dangers in their workplace, work-related injury is so frequent that the disability rate for U.S. farmworkers is three times higher than other people. They also have no job security. Because many farm works are seasonal and only available during the harvest, when the harvest ends, the immigrant farmworkers often become unemployed immediately(Oxfam America, 2004).
Immigrant farmworkers’ poor career prospect also shows the unfairness in the system, Martin (2002)noted while around 90 percent of farmworkers were immigrant, the overwhelming majority of farmers, around 98 percent ,were white in 1997, also indicated that farmworkers have few opportunities to climb job ladders, therefore they, and their families, would often remain in constant poverty.
Baragona, S. (2010, August 11). US Farmers Depend on Illegal Immigrants, Voice of America. Retrieved from http://www.voanews.com/content/us-farmers-depend-on-illegal-immigrants-100541644/162082.html
Blanchflower, D. G. (2006). A cross-country study of union membership Discussion paper: Dartmouth College, NBER and IZA Bonn.
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Davis, M. (1980). The barren marriage of American Labour and the democratic party. New Left Review, 124, 43-84.
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Masters, M. F., Gibney, R., & Zagenczyk, T. (2006). The AFL-CIO v. CTW: The competing visions, strategies, and structures. Journal of Labor Research, 27(4), 473-504.
Mehta, C., & Theodore, N. (2005). Undermining the right to organize: Employer behavior during union representation campaigns. A report for American Rights at Work, Washington DC. Retrieved November, 1, 2007.
OECD StatExtracts. (2013). Trade union density.
Ruark, E. A., & Moinuddin, A. (2011). Illegal Immigration and Agribusiness: The Effect on the Agriculture Industry of Converting to a Legal Workforce. Federation for American Immigration Reform, Washington DC.
Sadler, D. (2004). Trade unions, coalitions and communities: Australia’s Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union and the international stakeholder campaign against Rio Tinto. Geoforum, 35(1), 35-46.
Schnabel, C. (2003). Determinants of trade union membership. In J. T. Addison & C. Schnabel (Eds.), International Handbook of Trade Unions (pp. 13-44): Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.
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