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Tim Robinson

In spite of his support for free markets, John Stuart Mill, the father of modern liberalism, argued that the excessive bargaining power of employers in relation to individual employees meant that the formation of unions to redress the imbalance should be facilitated by the state; and so it has come to pass. If the balance of power between employer and unionized employee is just right then clearly unions play an indispensible role. If, however, the balance favours one side or the other – and this may differ from industry to industry and from employer to employer – then the imbalance should be redressed. Beyond bargaining around wages, unions have been responsible for enormous changes in hours of work, work practices and worker entitlements over the years. If the recent trend of declining union membership on the part of workers is anything to go by, it appears that unions have been so successful in pursuing their aims that, at least for now, their major work has been done.

Professor & Head of QUT's School of Economics and Finance, Tim Robinson