IR system entrenches bitterness: Bevis

News

IR system entrenches bitterness: Bevis

Despite a cut in the number of days lost to industrial disputes under the Howard federal Government, the current IR system entrenched bitterness in the workplace, led to a lack of loyalty to either co-workers or employers, and contributed to growing feelings of job insecurity, according to the Opposition's IR spokesperson.

WantToReadMore

Get unlimited access to all of our content.

 

Despite a cut in the number of days lost to industrial disputes under the Howard federal Government, the current IR system entrenched bitterness in the workplace, led to a lack of loyalty to either co-workers or employers, and contributed to growing feelings of job insecurity, according to the Opposition's IR spokesperson.

Arch Bevis told delegates to the IR Society of Victoria's annual convention in Melbourne on Friday that long-term disputes – those lasting more than 20 days – had doubled under the Howard Government 'bringing with them all the bitterness we don't want'.

He singled out the long-running Hunter Valley No. 1 dispute in NSW, between Rio Tinto and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, as an example of where after years of legal wrangling the federal Industrial Relations Commission, weakened by Howard Government reforms, had ultimately 'raised its hand and said we don't have the power to deal with this'.

'We're seeing a weaker and less influential IRC, which tends to act these days as the chief spectator rather than the settler of industrial disputes,' he said.

He said the nine-month lockout at G&K O'Connor meatworks in Packenham, in Victoria – the longest lockout since the Great Depression – was another case in point. But Bevis, in a speech which largely reiterated Labor's policy agenda formally released earlier this month (247/2001), said the disputes no longer had to be protracted to be bitter.

He used the example of the entitlements issue, and said workers at car steering parts company Tristar in Sydney, after legally striking for four days, were labelled 'traitors' by the federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott, who two days later urged employers not to negotiate with them (see 178/2001).

Bevis said under Labor good-faith bargaining would be encouraged and echoed recent comments made by the AIRC President Justice Geoffrey Giudice about unequal bargaining (see 233/2001). 'It is unacceptable that one side in a dispute that thinks it has the muscle or the resources to starve out the other can frustrate the process, irrespective of the merits of the case,' he said.

Among the other reforms Labor would follow, included:

  • A system whereby employers of more than 20 people would pay 0.1% of payroll, and quarterly superannuation payments, to guarantee 100% of workers' entitlements in the case of a company going 'belly up'. He said the Government's payout of entitlements to Ansett workers – with redundancy capped at eight weeks – meant only workers with less than four years service would receive their full entitlements. This was not the profile of the typical Ansett worker – who had been there many decades, often with their spouses and even their parents and siblings. Bevis said he had talked to many former Ansett workers about their predicament and 'it's not a pretty story'. 'I don't enjoy sitting down and talking with those people as they see their life savings disappear, but I tell you what – it makes you damn sure you want to get it right.'
  • Strengthening of the award system – with around one quarter of all Australian workers still relying on awards and with the disappearance of the social wage, 'the award is the lifeline for many Australian families - and unfortunately it's failing them', Bevis said. 'A number of awards are so out of kilter with rates of pay in enterprise agreements that they don't support the bargaining system, they undermine it.' Bevis quoted Australian Bureau of Statistics data commissioned earlier this year by the Australian Council of Trade Unions for its Living Wage claim (see 20/2001), which showed 30,000 of Australia's 800,000 working households regularly went without meals.
  • The ability for parties to opt for multi-employer agreements if they so desired. Bevis said the large, multi-employer and multi-union framework agreement struck in the run-up to the Sydney Olympics last year meant the preparations for the Games went along 'without a hiccup'. 'There were virtually no disputes in an industry that's known – from time to time – for a bit of biff,' he said.

 

 

 
Post details