Bargaining first, arbitration as last resort, says ACTU

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Bargaining first, arbitration as last resort, says ACTU

The ACTU's new IR policy says Australia's work laws should support collective bargaining based on obliging unions, workers and employers to bargain in good faith, with arbitration used only as a last resort.

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The ACTU's new IR policy says Australia's work laws should support collective bargaining based on obliging unions, workers and employers to bargain in good faith, with arbitration used only as a last resort.

ACTU Secretary Greg Combet offered this as the blueprint for the unions' IR policies for the next election when he addressed the National Press Club today.

Combet said the new system of workplace relations for Australia was based on the right of employees to bargain collectively and to have a democratic vote in workplaces. He said the new proposal will form the basis for union policy in response to the Federal Government's new IR laws and the next stage of the union campaign for workers' rights.

End of lockouts

Combet said the union proposal would no longer allow employers to lock out workers and refuse to offer anything other than individual contracts - 'as is increasingly happening under the current IR laws'.

'For example, 14 workers at Radio Rentals in SA who haven't had a pay rise in three years decided to take a four hour strike in support of their claim for a collective bargaining agreement, only to find their employer has changed the locks, and intends to prevent them from working for a whole month unless they sign an individual contract,' he said.

Combet said that under the new union proposal employers, workers and unions would be obliged to bargain in good faith but if bargaining falters because there are differences over what sort of agreement the employees want, the issue would be decided by a majority vote of the workers.

'If a majority of workers want a collective agreement the law should require their employer to respect that choice,' he said. 'If, as John Howard and his big-business backers assert, workers don't want collective agreements, let the workers themselves have a say in that choice.

Democracy

'In a free and democratic society the views of all organisations including unions, and ultimately the views of citizens themselves, must be properly considered - something that is not happening in Australia.'

Combet said that in developing the report and its policy recommendations, unions carried out six months of extensive research, including a senior union delegation travelling overseas to investigate the IR systems of the UK, Canada, NZ, US and other countries. The proposal will be debated at the forthcoming ACTU Congress in late October before becoming ACTU policy.

The ACTU policy statement has been welcomed by public sector unions.

The CPSU National Secretary Stephen Jones said that if a majority of staff in a workplace choose to be covered by a collective agreement, their democratic choice should be respected, as it is in the UK and US.

Employers hold the cards

'Under the Government's new IR laws employers hold all the cards and staff are denied a real choice,' he said.

'The Government claims their workplace laws are about increasing "choice". If they're fair dinkum about that, they should back this proposal. This plan does not favour unions or employers. It gives the real power over pay and conditions back to the majority of employees.

'This proposal puts pressure on unions to get out and win the "hearts and minds" of a majority of workers, but the CPSU welcomes that challenge,' he said.

Labor's IR spokesman Stephen Smith described Combet's statement as 'an important contribution' to the debate on workplace relations.

Full report

The full ACTU report can be found at this website.

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