Back to the future for Beazley

News

Back to the future for Beazley

Federal Opposition leader Kim Beazley confirmed last night, 31 May, that it would be back to the future for industrial relations under a Labor Government, with no surprises as he outlined his plans to return to collective negotiation at the cost of individual Australian Workplace Agreements.

WantToReadMore

Get unlimited access to all of our content.

 

Federal Opposition leader Kim Beazley confirmed last night, 31 May, that it would be back to the future for industrial relations under a Labor Government, with no surprises as he outlined his plans to return to collective negotiation at the cost of individual Australian Workplace Agreements.

Delivering the inaugural Fraser lecture at the Canberra Labor Club, Mr Beazley poured scorn on what he said were the divisive policies of Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith, before outlining three basic planks of Labor’s IR policy, to be taken to national conference in July:

  • To restore the powers of the AIRC
  • A requirement for all parties to negotiate in good faith
  • Restoring workers’ rights to organise collectively

The announcement is likely to find favour with most unions, which hold 60 per cent of votes at national conference, although some feel Mr Beazley has not gone far enough in refusing to overturn non-union collective agreements as well.

AIRC

Mr Beazley said Mr Reith’s winding back of powers of the AIRC showed contempt, saying plans to direct the Commission to regard the employer’s views in agreements were 'a totally partisan game'.

He said Labor would move both a Private Member’s Bill and amendments to the latest anti-pattern bargaining legislation, in an effort to ensure the AIRC has the power to conciliate as a first step 'when bargaining gets bogged down'.

Good faith negotiations

Mr Beazley said under Labor the Commission would be able to consider the conduct of parties – whether they had behaved reasonably, or prevented others from reaching agreement – to ensure parties negotiated in good faith.

If disagreements became intractable, the Commission would be able to arbitrate, and make or vary awards in order to resolve disputes.

Australian Workplace Agreements

The ALP would abolish AWAs, convinced after looking at Beattie Government reforms in Queensland that there was no point in keeping them.

With less than one per cent of the workforce signed to AWAs, they 'have not exactly swept the popular imagination', according to Mr Beazley. Studies around the country had shown these type of agreements fell short of collective agreements in terms of wages, conditions, and hours. And supposed flexibility was a 'myth', Mr Beazley said, with AWAs being used by employers as 'just another form of collective bargain. . . but with significantly reduced rights for working people.' For example, he said, in Victoria 10,000 public servants were on only 12 variations of AWAs.

But the deciding factor, Mr Beazley said, was the experience of Peter Beattie’s Labor Government in Queensland, which had amended industrial legislation to remove secrecy provisions from QWAs, and stopped employers making QWAs with juniors. The State Commission had also been required to investigate the public interest of workers in a relatively poor bargaining position – including women, youth, outworkers and the like.

As a result, while QWAs were fairer and more open, 'they have virtually fallen into disuse'. Under former National Party Premier Rob Borbidge, 282 QWAs were agreed per quarter on average – this has dropped to 16 now. 'In other words,' Mr Beazley said, 'the fairer QWAs are, the less attractive they are to employers.'

Cost was also prohibitive, at $500 per worker for each AWA compared with $22 per worker for collective agreements. The end of AWAs would also see the closure of the Office of the Employment Advocate. Any worker who preferred individual agreements could still use common law contracts, as they have done 'for the past couple of hundred years'.

Kim Beazley’s speech can be found on the Australian Labor Party’s website at www.alp.org.au

 

Post details