ACIRRT agreements report - interpretations vary


ACIRRT agreements report - interpretations vary

The company that commissioned a new report into agreement making has entered the debate with the researchers over their findings.


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The company that commissioned a new report into agreement making has entered the debate with the researchers over their findings.

Senior policy analyst with Australian Business Ltd, Grant Poulton, told WorkplaceInfo that he agreed with a fair number of the report’s findings, but disputed a number of conclusions drawn by the Australian Centre for Industrial Relations Research and Training in ‘Working it Out? Why employers choose the agreements they do’.
Poulton first questioned the finding that awards, which covered 37% of workers, were the most dominant form of agreement in NSW workplaces. He said if all other types of agreements – collective, individual and informal - were added together, the findings really showed that 63% of workers were covered by non-award agreements.

‘How can awards be dominant when less than one third of workers are covered by them?’ he asked.

He said he was delighted there was such a diversity of approach, and that such choice would not be available in the absence of enterprise bargaining.

Poulton also disputed the emphasis placed on the findings that enterprise bargaining was not driving workplace change; and the slowing of enterprise bargaining.

In both cases, he said, ACIRRT had set up straw men ‘a child could blow over’.

Further investigation will uncover substantive details, in Poulton’s view. He said the report had a lot of good information, but it was ‘only the first page of a very long book’, as the study continues for another two years.

He said the findings showed that ABL member companies who took part in the survey had a realistic appreciation of enterprise bargaining and its limits. ‘It’s not all beer and skittles,’ he said.

Poulton said members were saying enterprise bargaining had achieved what they wanted it to achieve – usually formalising existing arrangements – and there was no reason they had to jump to a ‘magic standard imposed by ACIRRT’ – that it should be driving change.

As to the slowing of enterprise bargaining, Poulton said this was inevitable seven years after its introduction.

The answer to the two main questions asked: why do employers choose the type of agreement they do, and what impact do those agreements have on the workplace, will be used to inform future policy.

The union movement said the report was evidence that the award system continued to be ‘extremely important’ in regulating pay and conditions.

Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Greg Combet said Poulton’s claims that awards were not the most dominant form of agreement were ‘a bit of spin doctoring’.

‘Awards govern the largest group of employees and workplaces, and the report shows that managers are disproportionately satisfied [80%] with the award system,’ he told WorkplaceInfo.

Combet said the predominance of awards had not precluded continuous ongoing change, as some sectors of the business community had said.

And the report also proved that AWAs were ‘irrelevant’, he said. ‘Peter Reith’s big initiative has been an absolute failure,’ he said, blaming the stream’s unfairness and administrative complexity for the low take-up.

He said while common law contracts were prevalent, and always had been, they, unlike AWAs, were underpinned by the award system.

WorkplaceInfo’s attempts to reach the office of Federal Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith for comment were unsuccessful.

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