When I joined the NT Police Force in 1987 I never envisaged
being President of our
Association and certainly never envisaged or contemplated attending Harvard University, one of the preeminent educational institutions in the world.
As many of you are aware I am currently undertaking a Trade Union Executive training program at Harvard University Law School, in Cambridge (Boston), Massachusetts. I was fortunate to win a scholarship to undertake the program and would not be here without the support I have received from my wife, family and members over the years.
One of the non academic challenges is living with cold weather which is something outside of my experience. The coldest day so far has been minus 17 - wind chill minus 23. My 40 minute walk to class that day was something I am not too keen on experiencing regularly.
As you might expect the academic program includes presentations by world renowned academics in areas of industrial relations, economics, business, and history. The program also incorporates practical case studies with US union leaders. Life for industrial unions and organisations like ours is very difficult in the USA with the legislative and business environment weighted against unions.
The program has reinforced for me how lucky we are in Australia that our labour movement has secured so many benefits including reasonable recreation, sick leave and long service leave provisions.
We also take for granted our ability to negotiate collective agreements that both improve our wages and conditions of service and protects us as employees from abuse by employers. This capacity simply does not exist for the vast majority of workers in both the private and public sector in the United States.
While I have been here, union density in the private sector has fallen to its lowest level since 1916. Similarly union density in the public sector continues to fall - so again you would expect these worrying trends are the focus of much of the program. It is evident there is a deliberate and well financed campaign to reduce union influence in the United States in order to reduce wages and conditions across the board.
Our Association and other police associations/unions in Australia continue to enjoy very high levels of membership, however, the broader union movement in Australia is suffering a similar decline to the United States. The large corporations active in the US are also active in Australia.
We may feel that our current membership levels will always protect us, however, the strength and size of the broader labour movement does impact on our capacity to maintain reasonable wages and conditions, including those I have highlighted.
While in Boston I visited the New England Holocaust Memorial which includes the famous quote attributed to Pastor Martin Niemoeller:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out
- Because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade
Unionists, and I did not speak out - Because I was not a Trade
Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak for me.
This message should resonate for us all. It is appropriate that our Association acts collectively in your interests, however, we should be aware of what is occurring in the labour movement more generally and how the political policies of the major parties will affect both ourselves and the union movement. This is particularly relevant given the recently announced federal election on 14 September. I wait with interest to see the industrial policies of both major parties and any other policies that will impact on our members locally and nationally.
Finally, I wish to thank all members, current and former, who
have sent messages of support following the death of my father on
10 January 2013. Your support was
greatly appreciated particularly as I was unable to return for his funeral. This support reminded me once again of the strength of the police family and our Association.