Employers want unions hit harder by IR laws

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Employers want unions hit harder by IR laws

The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) is calling for significant changes in Labor’s IR legislation to reduce the power of unions and prevent arbitration for low-paid workers.

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The Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) is calling for significant changes in Labor’s IR legislation to reduce the power of unions and prevent arbitration for low-paid workers.
 
In a submission to the Senate Inquiry into the legislation Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout said that a key test for the laws will be whether they are suitable for bad times as well as good times.
 
‘Unlike the last round of workplace relations legislative reforms, the Fair Work Bill is being introduced in an immensely tough and challenging economic environment,’ Ridout said.
 
Employers ‘bracing themselves’
 
‘The global financial crisis and economic slowdown are yet to be fully felt by Australian companies, and employers are bracing themselves. Businesses need to remain highly flexible and adaptable in order to survive the tough times ahead.’
 
Two of the major concerns for Ai Group are union right of entry and union coverage of enterprise agreements.
 
Attack on right to belong to a union
 
In an attack on the concept of the right to belong to a union, Ai Group says a union should not be entitled to be covered by an enterprise agreement if only a minority of the employees are union members.
 
There would be little point in belonging to a union if it could not represent an employee over his/her workplace relationship with the employer.
 
Seven areas of concern
 
Ridout said Ai Group had seven core areas of concern about the proposed legislation:
  1. The Bill substantially increases union entry rights, giving each union access to a much wider range of workplaces and giving union officials access to wage records of non-union members. The existing entry rights are appropriate and should not be expanded.
  2. A union should not be entitled to be covered by an enterprise agreement if only a minority of the employees are union members. A union should only be entitled to be covered if the agreement specifies that the union is covered by it, and the agreement is made with the union.
  3. Unless amended the greenfields agreement provisions will result in substantial delays in the commencement of construction projects and increased construction costs.
  4. Ai Group has concerns about the drafting of some of the Bill’s provisions relating to enterprise agreement making and the potential for interpretation problems to arise with major consequences for industry. Important changes are proposed to various provisions including those relating to dispute settling, an employer’s obligation to bargain, FWA’s powers, and the criteria for majority support determinations and scope orders.
  5. The low-paid bargaining stream, which would have the effect of reintroducing compulsory arbitration, would undermine Australia’s enterprise bargaining system and add a further layer of arbitrated employment conditions above the safety net. It should be scrapped.
  6. Preventing enterprise agreements overriding State and Territory long service leave laws, as the Bill does, disadvantages all parties. 
  7. The transfer of business provisions of the Bill are problematic and will cause problems for businesses in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT), contract call centre, cleaning, catering and a wide range of other industries that carry out work outsourced from other industries.
Ridout conceded that the existing legislation is the outcome of an extensive and testing consultation process over many months.
 
Concerns addressed
 
She said Ai Group acknowledges that the Bill puts in place many important protections for industry and addresses a number of the concerns which Ai Group had raised during the consultation process.
 
For example, the Bill ensures that:
  • good faith bargaining will not require employers to make concessions or sign up to an agreement that they do not support
  • some restrictions will remain on agreement content and bargaining claims
  • strong laws will remain in place to prevent industrial action in pursuit of pattern bargaining
  • industrial action will remain unlawful in pursuit of multi-enterprise agreements, including project agreements
  • the compulsory arbitration powers of Fair Work Australia (FWA) will be limited
  • parties will have immediate access to Courts for injunctions and damages where unlawful action is taken
  • the investigatory and prosecutory function of FWA will be separated and judicial functions will continue to be handled by the courts
  • hearings, appeal rights and various exemptions will remain part of the unfair dismissal system.

 

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