Power to the workers...Federal ALP plans to shake up IR


Power to the workers...Federal ALP plans to shake up IR

Addressing the inherent power imbalance between individual workers and employers through industry-wide collective bargaining and a revitalised AIRC is up for debate at Friday’s ALP national conference.


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Addressing the inherent power imbalance between individual workers and employers through industry-wide collective bargaining and a revitalised AIRC is up for debate at Friday’s ALP national conference.

The only way to deliver a fair industrial relations system is to recognise that employers have more power than individual workers and to take steps to remedy this inequality through a collective approach, according to the ALP draft policy Income, Jobs and Social Security.

In a swipe at the Coalition, the draft policy said: ‘The principal [of power imbalance] has long been accepted in Australian society and by virtually all federal Governments prior to the Howard Government.’

The draft policy states it is necessary to protect the rights and entitlements of all workers, including the most vulnerable, such as young workers, people with disabilities and people from non-English speaking backgrounds.

If the ALP wins government in this year federal election, workplace, enterprise and industry-wide collective bargaining and the preservation of the award system will be the order of the day - it’s the only way to protect workers and deliver fairness, according to the draft policy.

The draft policy also wants the AIRC to have a greater role in preventing and resolving disputes, and to have a major role in addressing income inequality.

Of particular importance in the draft policy is the need to address the growth of low-paid jobs. According to the policy, there is a problem when low-paid workers and their families cannot participate fully in Australian society with ‘dignity’, but CEO salaries increase from three to over thirty times the average wage between 1976 and 2003.

Collective bargaining and the AIRC

Trade union or employee negotiated workplace, enterprise and industry-wide agreements underpinned by ILO standards is a major plank of the draft policy.

To ensure a fair process the draft policy wants: 

  • a reasonable ‘no disadvantage test’;
  • employers made to bargain in good faith with unions who want to negotiate a collective agreement;
  • to prevent lockouts by employers not bargaining in good faith;
  • to empower the AIRC to ensure bargaining is commenced and carried out in good faith;
  • to empower the AIRC to make orders that enable unions wanting to negotiate an agreement to bargain as one unit;
  • the AIRC and all parties affected by bargaining made aware of and able to participate in: the bargaining, the review of agreements and arbitration in cases where legitimate collective bargaining has failed to occur;
  • a transparent review and registration of agreements;
  • any matter agreed to by the parties included in the agreement;
  • to ban discrimination against those who seek to bargain collectively; and
  • workers and unions to have sufficient information to make informed decisions about the matters being negotiated.

Union members

According to the draft policy, workers must be free to choose ‘democratic collective representation by unions’ without fear of reprisal, such as discrimination.

The draft policy seeks to have the following union delegates’ rights enshrined in law or determined by the AIRC: 

  • formal recognition of the role of union representatives in the workplace;
  • free from discrimination and harassment to be trade union members or to carryout trade union activity;
  • reasonable time off to consult with workers and to participate in the affairs of the union;
  • trade union education; and
  • dissemination of trade union information at work by email and other means.

Union officials

The draft policy also recognises that union officials have a right of entry to workplaces to communicate with, organise, recruit and provide assistance to workers.

‘The legitimate role of trade unions and their rights to organise, to take action on behalf of their members and on behalf of workers generally, and to bargain collectively, should be recognised, defended and enhanced.’

Other IR initiatives

The draft policy also seeks the following:

  • industrial protections for workers that fall outside the narrow definition of the employee/employer relationship but are in an ‘employment type relationship’.
  • unfair dismissal protection for all employees, regardless of the size of a business;
  • discontinuing individual contracts of employment for members of the Australian Public Service below the senior executive level;
  • removing all industrial matters from the Trade Practices Act;
  • instituting comprehensive industrial inspection regimes to protect workers rights;
  • compatibility of State and Commonwealth IR laws;
  • defining casual, full-time and part-time employment so it reflects the true nature of the employment arrangement;
  • reduced cost barriers to accessing rights;
  • abolition of the OEA and Australian Workplace Agreements;
  • paid maternity leave and part-time work for parents returning to work after maternity and parental leave; and
  • equal remuneration for women, not just equal pay.

The ILO will also come back into vogue. The draft policy seeks to ‘reinvigorate ties’ with the ILO through actively promoting the development of international labour standards, assisting countries in ‘our region’ to meet the standards, promoting free and democratic representation, and mobilising the community against child and forced labour.

The draft policy also details other industrial and related initiatives. For more information on these and the initiatives discussed in this story go to the ALP website.

The ALP draft policy is at odds with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry policy Modern Workplace: Modern Future 2002- 2010.

ACCI said that if the ALP policy was implemented it would mean a substantial re-regulation of industrial relations. ACCI is currently analysing the ALP draft policy.

For information on ACCI’s policy go to the ACCI website.

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ALP wants good faith powers at AIRC





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