Expect an active bargaining round in 2003: acirrt

Analysis

Expect an active bargaining round in 2003: acirrt

The Federal Government's latest attempt to pare back awards could make them more attractive to employers, and see a concurrent rise in unregistered agreements and the use of HR policy manuals, an enterprise bargaining conference heard today.

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The Federal Government's latest attempt to pare back awards could make them more attractive to employers, and see a concurrent rise in unregistered agreements and the use of HR policy manuals, an enterprise bargaining conference heard today.

Ron Callus, director of acirrt, told a Sydney enterprise agreements briefing the 'obvious consequences' of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Award Simplification) Bill 2002 (see 364/2002), which would remove five further award conditions most notably notice of termination, could see a 'very curious' situation arise whereby workers could then be bound by documents over which management had unilateral control.

Discussion among conference delegates then centred around the possibility that if management changed the terms of a contract of employment, a worker could be within rights to take legal action.

The bargaining hot-spots

Callus also predicted a 'very active' bargaining round would characterise IR next year. Around 1000 metals agreements were due to expire by mid-year, mainly in Victoria, while in NSW 1000 construction agreements would also be expiring, with the unions in that state pushing for the 36-hour week achieved by their Victorian counterparts.

Some 500 other manufacturing agreements were due to expire by June, and other hotspots would be community services, the renegotiation of most university agreements and a 'whole swag' of local government agreements.

While acirrt was predicting wage rises of between 4% and 5%, with 1% in extra superannuation, he said staffing levels and quality of service were a hot item for negotiation - particularly in public sector unions. Already Victorian and Queensland nurses had taken up the issue, and the education sector would do the same.

Other issues likely to be up for negotiation included:

  • Paid parental leave. Currently only available in 7% of agreements, Callus said he suspected that the longer the Federal Government 'drags its feet' in bringing in national standards, the more likely unions would be to take up the issue via bargaining, 'and I suspect that's the Government's strategy'.
  • Limiting extended hours and reducing hours of work. 'Despite the brave face the unions have put on [regarding the AIRC's decision in the reasonable hours test case, see 201/2002], it was hardly a stunning decision,' Callus said, adding that no luck in the Commission meant unions would have to turn to bargaining.
  • Protection of employee entitlements, including the issue of portability. While Callus said the current Federal Government scheme was 'not bad' he said the fact that it was not legislated meant it could be taken away at any time.
  • Trade union training, particularly in the metals and manufacturing sectors.
  • Limiting the use of casual workers, or extending their rights to convert to permanency.
  • Bargaining agents' fees.
  • Clarifying or strengthening change provisions - Callus said in the universities sector in particular this was an issue, with direct management not given enough training or understanding of what their obligations were.

Emerging issues

The biggest issue three to five years out was the rapid ageing of the population, which Callus said would have almost crisis-like ramifications amongst highly-skilled professionals and managers, who could not be easily replaced.

He predicted agreements would have to make more use of carer's leave provisions - with the focus not so much on child-care, as it currently was, but on time for elder care.

Another issue, more current, included the ability of workers to take protected action during the life of an agreement, with employers likely to seek protection by ensuring agreements contained 'no further claims' clauses following the Federal Court's Emwest decision. (see HR Link 31a/2002)

Callus said he found it 'somewhat surprising' that 53% of agreements already contained such provisions - more likely in federal (64%) and South Australian (60%) agreements and least likely in Queensland (34%).

The claims were far more likely in certain industries: electricity, gas and water (88%), public administration (75%), metal manufacturing (72%) and agriculture, and food, beverage and tobacco manufacturing (both 70%). Industries less likely to contain such provisions included financial services and community services (both 48%), and recreational and personal services (49%).

Other issues to keep a watch for were drug and alcohol testing (acirrt is presenting a special briefing on this topic next week, and WorkplaceInfo will bring subscribers reports from the speakers), and new forms of employment.

Callus referred in particular to a new 'supplementary' worker category at Telstra, under which workers have job security by knowing they will have 500 hours of work a year with Telstra, and the same conditions as permanent part-timers, but act as an on-call pool of workers with no idea of when they'll be called up.

The acirrt enterprise bargaining briefings have been held in Perth and Melbourne before Sydney, and the Brisbane briefing tomorrow concludes the round of talks.

 

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