Expiring agreements caused rise in strikes: Gillard

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Expiring agreements caused rise in strikes: Gillard

The number of days lost to industrial disputes in Australia rose sharply in the June quarter, but IR Minister Julia Gillard has attributed this to a large number of collective agreements expiring at the same time.

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The number of days lost to industrial disputes in Australia rose sharply in the June quarter, but IR Minister Julia Gillard has attributed this to a large number of collective agreements expiring at the same time.

ABS figuresshowthat for the June quarter 2008, there were 60 disputes, 21 more than in the March quarter 2008.

The number of employees involved in industrial disputes in the June quarter 2008 was 69,000, an increase from 42,300 in the March quarter 2008.

There were 86,500 working days lost due to industrial disputation in the June quarter 2008, an increase from 42,800 in the March quarter 2008.

During the year ended June 2008, there were 166 disputes, 22 more than in the year ended June 2007. During the year ended June 2008, there were 164,900 working days lost compared with 88,400 in the year ended June 2007.

In Parliament, Gillard was asked by Opposition Deputy Leader Julie Bishop what the cost to the economy was of this ‘massive increase in strikes’.

In reply Gillard said that when WorkChoices was being introduced ‘people saw an avalanche or a tidal wave of extreme industrial relations legislation coming under the former government’.

‘Knowing that that extreme legislation was going to be put in place, people rushed to lock in their collective agreements before it took effect,’ she said.

‘As a result, many collective agreements were locked in at the same time and those collective agreements are now coming up for re-bargaining. That bulge of numbers is the logical consequence of people seeking to beat the industrial relations extremism of the former government.’

Gillard said the number of expiring collective agreements in the first half of 2007 was 1676, and the number of expiring collective agreements in the first half of this year is 4948.

‘Obviously that is a huge lift in the number of collective agreements expiring in this six months and coming up for re-bargaining,’ she said.

‘To further explain these figures, during 2008, we anticipate that a total of 8239 collective agreements covering more than 770,000 employees will expire and come up for re-bargaining

‘In total, this is 43%of the 18,985 federal agreements current as at 31 December 2007.’

Pressure from Opposition

Under sustained pressure from the Opposition for not answering the question, Gillard pointed out that the only time industrial action can be taken is when people are bargaining for a new agreement.

‘I do not know what is being suggested by the opposition here, but I take it that they have in contemplation a workplace relations system even more extreme than WorkChoices,’ Gillard said.

‘Presumably, under that system anybody who took protected action during a bargaining period would somehow be, what, shot? Is that what you want?’

In a statement later, Bishop claimed that the rate of strikes under the Rudd Labor Government has doubled in every quarter since its election.

‘It is no co-incidence that the sectors suffering from the highest levels of disputation are among those with higher levels of unionisation,’ she said.

‘The cost of strike action under Labor, at its peak in 1993, is estimated to have cost the Australian economy an estimated $1.5 billion per year.'

‘A series of workplace relations reforms since 1996 has led to the lowest levels of disputation since records were kept in 1913.'

‘The union movement invested tens of millions of dollars to get the Rudd Labor Government elected and it clearly wants a return on that investment.'

‘With wall to wall Labor Governments across Australia, the unions clearly believe there is now no impediment to them achieving their aims.’


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