ADAM: pattern bargaining in the spotlight

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ADAM: pattern bargaining in the spotlight

Construction agreements provided for the biggest wage increases (4.5%), followed by metal manufacturing (4.4%) and electricity, gas and water (4.3%). The lowest AAWIs came from agreements in the mining sector (3.4%), recreational and personal services and public administration ( both 3.5%).

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Two recent studies on enterprise agreements in the construction and automotive manufacturing industries challenge many Federal Government assumptions, assertions and policy reforms advanced in relation to pattern bargaining, according to the latest edition of acirrt’s Agreements Database and Monitor.

The December ADAM report from the University of Sydney's IR research body, focusing on the September 2002 quarter, drew its findings from two studies undertaken by acirrt recently, one for the Cole Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry, the other for the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union.

It said the occurrence of common or even identical provisions in agreements in an industry were not necessarily evidence of pattern bargaining. While individual unions and employers would often end up with what may at face value seem like a pattern deal, standardisation was sometimes desired for administrative efficiency or operation effectiveness, the report said.

It also noted that in those industries pattern bargaining was often employer-initiated and flowed down supply-chains, with enterprise agreements among assemblers commonly referring to the requirements of the ‘Toyota’, ‘Ford’ or ‘Holden Production System’.

Similarly, identical agreements in construction crafted by employer associations flowed from head-contractors to sub-contractors. Such deals were also found in non-union agreements, which raised questions about the Workplace Relations Amendment (Genuine Bargaining) Bill 2002, which focused exclusively on unions, ignoring employer-driven pattern bargaining (see 320/2002).

Finally, the report said the Government, the Federal Workplace Relations Department and the Productivity Commission all overstated the level of uniformity between agreements.

‘Time to move on’

The December ADAM report called the case developed against pattern bargaining ‘conceptually vague and empirically sloppy’ and said it carried the ‘tacit assumption. . . that we live in a bipolar world’.

It said even in the UK and US, considered ‘the purest national cases of deregulated labour markets’, there was ‘considerable pattern-setting as well as decentralised bargaining by both employers and unions’.

While the Federal Government ‘continues to rehearse an old polemic about centralised versus decentralised bargaining. . . international bargaining practices and policy debates have moved on’.

Australia’s preoccupation with outlawing ‘pattern bargaining’ to facilitate ‘genuine’ enterprise bargaining missed the key policy challenge, the report said: how to productively manage the interaction between multi-employer and enterprise bargaining.

Wages

The report also contained its usual analysis of average annualised wage rises in certified agreements. AAWIs fell in the September quarter, down from 4.2% in the June quarter to 3.8%.

Following two quarters of a widening gap between union-negotiated and non-union agreements (see 180/2002 and 299/2002), the gap has closed, with union agreements delivering an AAWI of 3.8% in the September quarter, only 0.1% higher than non-union agreements.

Private sector agreements delivered a slightly higher AAWI than public sector deals (3.8% and 3.6% respectively).

Construction agreements provided for the biggest wage increases (4.5%), followed by metal manufacturing (4.4%) and electricity, gas and water (4.3%). The lowest AAWIs came from agreements in the mining sector (3.4%), recreational and personal services and public administration ( both 3.5%).

The report is available from ACIRRT by subscription only.

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