Australian democrats agree with intent but find anti-pattern bargaining bill goes too far

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Australian democrats agree with intent but find anti-pattern bargaining bill goes too far

Sympathising with the intent and purpose of the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000, yet branding it as an over-reaction, the Australian Democrats have remitted consideration of the Bill back to the party room.

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Sympathising with the intent and purpose of the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000, yet branding it as an over-reaction, the Australian Democrats have remitted consideration of the Bill back to the party room.

Background

HR Link 58/2000reported the tabling of the Government's Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000. On the same day that it was tabled, the Senate passed a motion that referred the Bill to a Senate Employment, Workplace Relations, Small Business and Education Legislation Committee that attracted over sixty submissions.

Minority Report

With the Australian Democrats holding the balance of power in the Senate, it was no surprise that the Minority Report of Senator Andrew Murray attracted much of the attention surrounding the release of the of the Senate Committee Report.

Senator Murray's report commenced by identifying the four main proposals contained in the Bill. They are:

  1. the definition of pattern bargaining;

  2. the Australian Industrial Relations Commission's power to make orders that unlawful industrial action not occur;

  3. to provide cooling off periods; and

  4. to protect the right to pursue common law remedies.

It was noted that the reason that the Government had sought to rush the amendments through both Houses of Parliament was to regulate enterprise bargaining in light of the major industrial campaign that is expected to commence with the expiry of several hundred collective enterprise agreements on June 30 2000. Therefore, one of the key questions in considering this Bill was whether it was urgently needed to deal with Campaign 2000.

The Senator noted that the Workplace Relations Act 1996in its present form provides the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) with the power to suspend or terminate bargaining periods in certain circumstances. These according to Senator Murray are substantial powers and may be sufficient to deal with the issue of pattern bargaining.

Senator Murray expressed the view that workplace relations law needs to ensure that access to protected action is not abused beyond the intention of Parliament. As such:

The amendments proposed by the Government may go too far in restricting the actions of unions, but it could be equally validly argued that the current provisions of section 170MWdo not go far enough.

The Democrats therefore were of the position that an amendment of some sort was required, however the amendments proposed in the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000 do not address the requirement.

The Democrat Minority report went on to suggest that the Bill's provisions are unbalanced in that they principally deal with the concerns that employers have with union performance on enterprise bargaining, and do not deal with the real concerns that unions have with employer abuses of the current law. These include for instance:

  • The insistence by the Federal Government on universities and public service departments pursuing a certain pattern of bargaining that, if pursued by the unions, would have breached these provisions.

  • The creation of standard AWAs by the Office of the Employment Advocate and the pursuit of thises as standard bargaining mechanisms across industry;

  • Failure to address concerns from the ILO about restriction on collective batgaining

Conclusion

Whilst the Democrats sympathise with the intent of some aspects of the Bill, in terms of encouraging enterprise bargaining, the Bill as a package is unfairly slanted towards the interests of employers. The powers of the Commission to suspend or terminate access to protected action in the face of real or impending industrial action in s170MWmay be sufficient to deal with campaigns such as Campaign 2000. A point that was reiterated by Senator Murray in a press release late on 5 June 2000 where he claimed that:

There are provisions within the existing Act to deal with inappropriate industrial action, and we need to determine if those provisions will be adequate to deal with a new concerted campaign from some unions to undermine enterprise bargaining.

Having concluded that the proposed legislation is an over reaction, the Democrats were confronted with four alternatives. The four options which are to either delay the passage of the Bill; split the Bill; reject the Bill outright or seek to make substantial amendments to the Bill, will all be considered by Democrat Party Room.

 

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