Labor should set up 'harmonised' national IR system: Combet

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Labor should set up 'harmonised' national IR system: Combet

ACTU Secretary, Greg Combet, has called on Labor to introduce 'nationally harmonised' industrial relations laws that would replace the current State systems, if it wins the next election.

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ACTU Secretary, Greg Combet, has called on Labor to introduce 'nationally harmonised' industrial relations laws that would replace the current State systems, if it wins the next election.

He also said the union movement wanted the abolition of all kinds of individual agreements, to be replaced with collective agreements that included provision for individual bargaining within a set framework.

Combet told the Re-Working Australia conference in Sydney today that, for example, mining companies could have a collective agreement which allows for individuals to bargain at some levels, but the collective agreement must have some basic elements.

The conference was organised by the Workplace Research Centre, from the University of Sydney.

Discussions on limiting AWAs

NSW Business Chamber CEO, Kevin MacDonald, told the conference that discussions had been held with Labor regarding any changes to AWAs introduced by a Labor Government to be limited to those workers on average weekly earnings or below — thus protecting high pay AWAs such as in the mining sector.

Consequences for State systems

Combet said the union movement is supporting a Labor Government to have national coverage of IR following last year's High Court ruling that the constitution's corporation powers enabled the Commonwealth to legislate in this area.

'They should use all the powers under the constitution to legislate in this area,' Combet said. 'This will have consequences for the State systems.'

He said there are currently two principal areas outside the national system: the State sector and the employees of unincorporated companies.

'We need national harmonisation of laws so an overwhelming number of employees are covered at a national level,' Combet said. 'We want decent national standards with legislated minima and with common rule applications.'

No artificial limits on bargaining

Combet said the scope of collective agreements should not be artificially limited, and people should be able to bargain about anything - subject to the law on basic requirements.

He said the restraint on bargaining in such matters as trade union training and unfair dismissals, with fines up to $33,000 — 'and all that crap' — has to go.

Combet said business was always championing freedom of contract, but was now supporting a system which one questioner at the conference described as 'Stalinist'.

He said that in some areas multi-employer bargaining should be allowed, where wage costs are the key to competition (presumably areas such as the hospitality and cleaning) — areas where women are traditionally low paid.

Must bargain in good faith

Combet said that if the majority of workers at an enterprise, whether union members or not, want collective bargaining, then they should have it, with bargaining to be done in good faith. If not there should be some sort of tribunal process or arbitration system to compel this to happen.

He said that at the moment the right to collective bargaining depended on the 'charity' of the employer.

On the unfair dismissal laws, Combet said the union movement would not stand by and see workers treated unfairly, and would argue their case at the ALP National Conference next month and 'all the way to the election'.

He admitted there had been problems with the system in the past that should have been addressed, but what was needed now was a process that was 'speedy, non-legalistic and fair'.

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