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Catch 22


work, money, dollarJoseph Heller began writing his book. Catch 22, in 1953 and it was first published in 1961.  Since then it has sold millions of copies and the phrase ‘catch 22’ entered the English language years ago.  It means a no win situation, or self contradictory circular logic.

Between the car manufacturers and Qantas, more than 14,000 jobs have been lost in recent times, and that is the tip of the iceberg. Taking into account support industries, there are probably another 10,000 that have gone or will go.

We know that Australia is an expensive country. The union logic says that because we are a wealthy and expensive country, workers need to earn commensurate wages.

I have difficulty with this circular logic. If jobs are lost largely because of high wages (double Europe and four times Asia in the motor industry), those who lose their jobs don’t have the money to buy the things they used to buy.

The workers suffer and so does retail.

Wouldn’t it be better to have lower wages, job retention, and competitive industries?

But the unions do a lot more damage by promoting entitlement and this creates a we/they mentality between workers and management with a fairly clear dividing line. Not only that, but it filters up the chain to middle and even senior management where adversarial relationships can develop.  After all if the unionised workers can take the company on, why not the rest of us?

This can make it very lonely for the CEO especially if he/she is a dictator. I came across a case recently when a senior manager confided in me that every day when he wakes up, he prays that he will be sick so that he doesn’t have to go to work.

Isn’t this sad.

He needs the job, the CEO is a nasty piece of work and the troops grudgingly obey. The good news is that the CEO cannot last and the other bit of good news is that unions will continue to lose their grip aided and abetted by the odd rort that casts a dark shadow over the whole movement. But what about the damage they are doing in the interim?

I have lived and worked in several countries that were not unionised. In some instances there was undoubtedly exploitation, but overall the environments were good and good managers treated their staff well because they recognised the asset value. Bad managers didn’t and they paid the price. Workers went slow, sabotaged product, stopped work, and generally caused headaches for management.

If in the beginning there had only been good management, there would have been no unions. We have made a bed and we will have to continue to lie on it.

Stuart Bennie is a retail consultant at Impact Retailing and can be contacted at or 0414 631 702




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