Is your boss anti-union? How to spot the signs

Published: 06/04/2022
Category: Workers rights
Published: 06/04/2022
Category: Workers rights

Having a union presence is great for your workplace – the experts have told us as much.  

The collective bargaining we do is associated with higher employment, lower unemployment, better integration of vulnerable groups and less wage inequality

While there are some bosses who actively encourage union membership, there are others who see their workers as commodities and treat them as such.  

If you and your colleagues are looking to unionise your workplace or join a union, keep an eye out for these four red flags from your employer.  

1. Anti-union messaging

Union members are integral to facilitating healthy communication lines between employers and employees. Delegates are the ones to turn to if you’re not sure how to approach management or are unsure about something at work. 

However, there are bosses who try to undermine this relationship. A common tactic is to create a stressful work environment while unionisation is occurring and then blame it on union presence.  

Some bosses even go to the lengths of holding anti-union meetings and interrogating workers about their union membership. We’ve even seen examples of companies threatening employees with demotions and decreased hours.  

These types of employers will sometimes say that the business is like a ‘family’ to mislead exploited workers into thinking the employer has their best interests at heart and make them feel guilty for thinking otherwise.  

But in the same way a good family would support their relative in seeking external help if they needed it, a decent employer should be happy for an employee looking to join a union.  

A unionised workforce has stronger collaboration and coordination, allowing bosses and their workers to create an enjoyable work environment.  

2. Buyoffs and bribes

If the boss who has never shown any interest in your wellbeing suddenly starts handing out goodies like Oprah – Huge. Red. Flag.  

An employer who just wants to use their employees as cogs in the machine doesn’t want unionised workers creating a more democratic workplace.  

They’d rather dish out a couple of temporary perks and the occasional promotion to appease the right people (and these gains can be achieved via your union anyway). And these buyoffs tend to be short-lived.  

Nothing is guaranteed in a workplace without union members. Without the protection of a union, employers can change their minds, and the working lives of their employees, at will.

3. Guilt tripping

Dodgy bosses can try make you feel like you’ve let down colleagues or customers when you stand up for your rights, but that’s because their worried about their own power being disrupted by workers who want to be treated as human beings.  

It is never your fault for standing up for your rights at work. Even if you’re trying to protect a workmate rather than yourself from bad conditions – the best way to make sure everyone’s rights are respected is to join your union.  

Beware that it’s not only questionable employers who use this as a method of union-busting. Coalition Governments have done this too to deflect from their own failings or deliberate decisions to remove workers’ rights.  

4. Divide and conquer tactics

If your employer begins pulling aside you and your colleagues to have ‘one-on-one chats’, then the sirens should be blaring. 

Bad employers will split up workers like this because they know that your bargaining power is weakened when you’re alone. 

They’ll pull you away from anyone they perceive to be part of a union too. When they downplay chats about grievances as ‘casual chats’ and insist there’s no need for a union representative – it’s the same tactic as the one-on-one approach.    

The aim of these conversations isn’t just to (subtly) intimidate the individual workers who have shown union support but their workmates too.  

It is also a red flag if your employer says that you’re not allowed to talk to your co-workers about what you’re getting paid. There is no Fair Work law that prevents workers from sharing this information. 

But you are always stronger together and the sooner your employer hears you have a union behind you, the quicker they meet demands. 

Your union is here to stay

Attempts by big business to bust up unions is hardly a new phenomenon. Big business has been using it as a tool to guard their own profit-driven interests at the expense of their employees for decades.  

But despite these situations, we’ve seen workers across different unions pull together to support each other. Whether it be dockworkers standing up to intimidation or union members and their families holding the lines for more than a year, we are there.

Union members at the Esso UGLy picket line
Union members at the Esso UGLy one year anniversary rally in 2018

Because that’s what union members do – we show up for workers and ensure no one is left behind.   

Whether you’re starting your first job, changing career, or getting ready to retire, as workers, we’re all in this together.  

Australian union members come from all walks of life, and we’re here to support each other on that journey – no matter what stage you’re at.  

You’re never alone when you’re a union member

Is your boss anti-union? How to spot the signs

Is your boss anti-union? How to spot the signs