ACTU and Labor diverge on collective bargaining


ACTU and Labor diverge on collective bargaining

A gap has emerged between the ALP and the ACTU over collective bargaining under a future Labor Government, and the Federal Government is trying to drive a truck through it.


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A gap has emerged between the ALP and the ACTU over collective bargaining under a future Labor Government, and the Federal Government is trying to drive a truck through it.

Opposition Leader Kim Beazley announced preliminary IR policies this week which said that if a majority of employees at a workplace wanted a collective agreement they could have one - with the details being worked out through the AIRC.

Labor's IR spokesman Stephen Smith yesterday told a doorstop press conference that under Labor's plan it would not be possible for a minority of workers to successfully demand a collective agreement.

'They could pursue one, but under our arrangements they wouldn't be successful,' he said.

Good faith

However a policy blueprint released yesterday by ACTU Secretary Greg Combet takes this approach to collective bargaining a step or two further.

First of all, the ACTU's policy requires the AIRC to promote 'good faith' bargaining at the workplace for collective agreements, which means employers vehemently opposed to them would have to participate in the process which could bring one about. And if adopted there might be no escape from this, as the ACTU policy states: 'Where bargaining has failed, and there is no reasonable prospect of reaching an agreement, or where good faith orders have been breached, the Commission must be able to arbitrate as a last resort to resolve the dispute.'

In fact, in case there is any doubt, the ACTU policy states:

  • The obligation of the Commission should be to promote bargaining in good faith towards the making of collective agreements, and employers should not be able refuse to bargain on the grounds that they oppose the making of a collective agreement.
  • Where an employer opposes the collective bargaining process and/or the making of a collective agreement, the views of the majority of workers to be covered by the agreement should determine the issue.

Secondly, according to the ACTU policy, 'the making of a claim to collectively bargain should be open to workers, unions or employers'.

Union initiative

This is being interpreted to mean that a union without a majority of representation in a workplace (with, in fact, as few as one or two members), could initiate a move towards a collective agreement that may eventually involve all the employees (provided there was a majority vote for it).

In a speech to the National Press Club, Combet made this clear, saying: 'That is not a system where the role to collectively bargain is predicated upon a majority decision of the employees, it's a system where any party can enter into collectively bargaining negotiations at any time.'

The ACTU policy basically requires the AIRC to foster and facilitate collective bargaining wherever possible and no matter who initiates it.

Also horrifying employer groups is the ACTU push to reinstate pattern bargaining.

Pattern bargaining

The ACTU blueprint states: 'ƒnThere should be an ability for parties to engage freely in 'pattern bargaining' - that is, to pursue common claims and outcomes in two or more single business agreements.'

While not all individual employers oppose pattern bargaining (it does set a level playing field for all competitors), employer groups abhor it because they say it reduces flexibility and drives up costs.

All this is so contrary to the IR philosophies of WorkChoices that the Federal Government became close to apoplectic.

'The fact is that Greg Combet is once again dictating Labor's workplace relations policy,' Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews fulminated.

'Combet revealed that the policy would allow the extraordinary situation whereby a single unionist could seek to have a collective agreement imposed by order of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

Union rule

'Kim Beazley and [Labor IR spokesman] Stephen Smith have been misleading the community by saying this is about majority rule, not union rule. Combet has confirmed that this policy represents compulsory union bargaining by stealth.'

Prime Minister John Howard joined in during debate in Parliament yesterday, saying: 'Under our policy you have many choices. Under Labor, what comes out at the end of the process is what will be dictated by the ACTU'.

Of course, what Combet was speaking about this week is not even ACTU policy yet, let alone ALP policy. Combet's plan will be debated at the ACTU conference in Melbourne next month, with the ALP's 2007 National Conference due in April next year.

The Collective Bargaining report

Full text of ACTU document.


Bargaining first, arbitration as last resort, says ACTU

Beazley backs collective bargaining under storm from Govt, employers



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