Senate Committee recommends Fair Work Bargaining Bill proceed

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Senate Committee recommends Fair Work Bargaining Bill proceed

The coalition-dominated Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee has recommended the Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill 2014 should proceed.

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The coalition-dominated Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee has recommended the Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill 2014 should proceed.

The committee divided on predictable party lines, with three coalition senators recommending the Bill be passed, but dissenting reports from the two Labor senators and one Green.

The Bill seeks to implement elements of the government’s pre-election policy by:
  • including an additional approval requirement for enterprise agreements (excepting Greenfields agreements) by requiring the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to be satisfied that productivity improvements at the workplace were discussed during bargaining
  • providing further guidance and transparency regarding when a protected action ballot order can be made, by requiring the FWC to consider a range of non-exhaustive factors to guide its assessment of whether an applicant for a protected action ballot order is genuinely trying to reach an agreement
  • providing that the FWC must not make a protected action ballot order where it is satisfied the claims of an applicant for a protected action ballot order are manifestly excessive or would have a significant adverse impact on productivity at the workplace.
The committee’s report considered there were no drawbacks to the Bill and noted most submissions were largely supportive. However, the Labor senators’ dissenting report disagreed, noting 12 out of 23 submissions were in opposition. They noted concern that the requirement to discuss productivity improvements in the Bill will allow employers to deliberately refuse to discuss productivity until all their demands were met, in the knowledge that the FWC cannot approve the agreement until the productivity discussion is held. 

Labor senators were also concerned at what they termed “inadequate” definition of the terms “manifestly excessive”, “significant” and “beyond what is necessary, reasonable, proper or capable”, in relation to claims for a protected action ballot order. Concerns were also raised over the potential in the Bill for limiting the right to freedom of association and the right to form trade unions, citing the report of the current Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (PJCHR).

Greens senator, Lee Rhiannon, in opposing the Bill’s progress, said the government had failed to make the case for it, particularly with levels of industrial disputation at a 50-year low.

Regardless of the committees’ recommendation, the Bill must now navigate through a hostile senate, with cross-bench senators holding its fate in their hands.
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