Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Bachelor of Social Science (Honours)


School of Community and Language Studies


Western Australian College of Advanced Education

First Supervisor

Rob White


Recent figures show that participation of young workers between the ages of 15-24 in trade unions is by far the lowest of all age groups. Of 1.5 million young workers in this age category only one third are unionised. Not only is membership low but it is also fast declining. While there has been some discussion and debate over the reasons for this decline, few of the more popular explanations have been comprehensively and critically examined. These explanations include: i) dramatic changes in the world of work over the past twenty years ii) poor images of unions and a lack of constructive marketing strategies to counter these images and iii) incompatibility between the interests of young people and unions. This thesis investigates the question: Why has there been a decline in the numbers of young people joining trade unions in Australia? The study includes an examination and analysis of documents such as union and government policy statements, union membership statistics, and reports that consider the participation of young people in unions. This secondary research material is supported by data collected in a series of interviews involving twenty young people of various ages, both sexes and from a range of localities, work, educational, social and ethnic backgrounds. The findings of the dissertation are that, in and of themselves, none of the three explanations or "perspectives" provide an adequate explanation for the decline. Rather the study demonstrates that the incidence of young people's membership in unions cannot be fully understood without first critically examining the social construction of youth and how this impacts upon the trade union activity of young workers.