Negotiation impasse on agreements frustrates unions

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Negotiation impasse on agreements frustrates unions

Union leaders are expressing increasing frustration at the Labor Government's policy that allows employers to refuse to negotiate a collective agreement even when a majority of the workforce wants one.

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Union leaders are expressing increasing frustration at the Labor Government’s policy that allows employers to refuse to negotiate a collective agreement even when a majority of the workforce wants one.

And they are angered that Labor has back-tracked on one of its key IR policies enunciated before last year’s federal election: that employers and employees could bargain on any matter they chose.

AMWU national secretary Dave Oliver was in Canberra this week with employees of the bionic ear maker Cochlear lobbying Government Members on the issue of arbitration in collective bargaining.

Cochlear is refusing to make a collective agreement despite five meetings in 16 months in which its employees have called for a union deal.

They have consistently refused the company’s offer of individual contracts.

Employers can refuse indefinitely

Oliver pointed out to Labor MPs that under the planned Fair Work Australia IR structure employers like Cochlear can continue to refuse collective agreements indefinitely and there would be no industrial umpire with the power to arbitrate the dispute.

Under Labor’s forthcoming system, employers will have to ‘bargain in good faith’ but do not have to come to an agreement.

Telstra is also refusing to make any collective deals with its 30,000 employees and is simply ignoring union demands for negotiations.

Hoped rights would be returned

‘Cochlear workers were hopeful that getting rid of the Howard Government would mean their rights at work would be returned,’ Oliver said.

‘But under Labor’s proposed legislation there is still no way of resolving the Cochlear dispute which has been running for over 16 months.' 

‘For every worker to have the right to collectively bargain there must be a way to deal with employers that refuse to negotiate in good faith, like Cochlear.’

Oliver also said laws should also not limit workers from bargaining on any issue that is important to them in the workplace - a view which has been supported by John Sutton, the national secretary of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, and Australian Workers Union national secretary Paul Howes.

‘Climate change, factory closures and job security are all important issues that workers are prohibited from taking action on under the proposed legislation,’ Oliver said.

‘Under these proposed laws Australia will be the only developed nation where workers are unable to take action to gain measures delivering job security.’

‘Slap in the face’

Sutton said Labor’s approach amounted to a ‘slap in the face for the union movement’.

A lot of us are now feeling pretty cheesed off at the latest developments and some of the pre-emptive announcements last week which cut off debate with the union movement are pretty hard to take,’ he said.

Sutton said that in negotiations with the unions the Government says it can’t change what is in the Forward with Fairness policy document ‘because that is what the Australian people voted on’.

However, on open-ended bargaining content, which was also in Forward with Fairness, the Government has changed its position ‘and suddenly all this mantra about sticking with Forward with Fairness goes out the window’, he said.

‘WorkChoices Lite’

Sutton said there was fear that come April or May next year unions would be faced with ‘WorkChoices Lite’.

In the meantime, unions would continue putting pressure on the politicians.

Howes also expressed disappointment that Labor had blocked free bargaining with employers.

He said that has been one of the big selling points for why the unions had campaigned so heavily for Labor. 


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