Employee voice and new rights for workplace union delegates

Impacts on wages, productivity, cooperation and union training
by David Peetz

A workplace delegate is a worker chosen to represent workers who are union members in dealings with management. Delegates are volunteers who perform their union duties on an unpaid basis in addition to their normal job at work. Delegates spend their time undertaking vital tasks for workplace representation.

Some employers have actively placed barriers in the way of volunteer union delegates and paid officials. One study in the early 2000s found that 23% of delegates found management
hostile, while 22% of delegates reported that management opposition to their role as a delegate had become more intense over the previous two years. Examples from various case studies, including court and industrial cases, illustrate some of the ways in which that minority of employers from workplaces with delegates expressed their hostility towards unionism and their opposition to delegates, including by placing barriers in the way of workplace union activists and delegates.

The new regime of workplace delegates’ rights is very likely, overall, to increase the voice of employees, and thereby have positive consequences, over the long run, for pay and conditions, union membership, workplace cooperation, grievance resolution and productivity. However, the effects of new rights for paid union training leave depend very much on union responses, in particular on their subsequent reliance on classroom versus informal training and the ‘follow up’ of classroom education.

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