Telstra wants union powers in IR laws slashed

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Telstra wants union powers in IR laws slashed

Telstra wants the Federal Government’s IR legislation amended to further reduce the powers of unions and to enable employers to avoid good faith bargaining by simply refusing to bargain.

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Telstra wants the Federal Government’s IR legislation amended to further reduce the powers of unions and to enable employers to avoid good faith bargaining by simply refusing to bargain.
 
In its submission to the Senate Inquiry into the Fair Work Bill, Telstra argues that unions should not be the ‘default’ representative of employees in enterprise negotiations.
 
Under the legislation, unions will represent employees unless they individually appoint another bargaining representative.
 
‘Intimidated’
 
Telstra says this is ‘problematic’ because ‘in many circumstances an employee may be intimidated or feel a form of workplace peer pressure not to appoint a different representative of his or her choice’.
 
Telstra also complains that ‘there is no requirement in the Bill that the employee be a financial member of the employee organisation concerned, nor is there a requirement in the Bill (or the Workplace Relations Act 1996) that employees who have not paid their union subscription fees (perhaps for many years) cannot be considered by an employee organisation to be members’.
 
Appoint in writing
 
Instead, Telstra wants unions to be the bargaining representative for employees who appoint them in writing, but not the default representative.
 
‘Such amendment would place employee organisations on an equal footing with other bargaining representatives,’ Telstra says, adding that this would be consistent with the object of protecting freedom of association.
 
It would, of course, also greatly weaken the union’s bargaining power and fracture the negotiations.
 
Telstra also wants employers to be able to avoid ‘good faith bargaining’ having a forced outcome.
 
‘Undermines collective bargaining’
 
It says it is concerned about the provision penalising conduct that ‘undermines collective bargaining’, saying there is no clear definition of this.
 
‘For example, a lawful strategy of entering into individual flexibility agreements or common law contracts which meet and exceed the requirements of a modern award and the National Employment Standards could be said to undermine collective bargaining,’ the submission says.
 
Indefinite bargaining
 
‘Telstra is also concerned that the provisions could result in open-ended or indefinite bargaining, potentially leading to protracted disputation, in circumstances where there is no prospect of reaching agreement because the parties have maintained genuine bargaining positions,’ it says.
 
‘If a party has engaged in good faith bargaining but has been unable to reach agreement with other bargaining parties, it should be entitled to end the bargaining.'
 
‘Otherwise, protracted bargaining and associated disputation could be used to undermine a party’s bargaining position and/or refusal to make substantive concessions on issues of importance.’
 
Sensitive information
 
Telstra also raises questions about not having to provide confidential or commercially sensitive information during the bargaining process.
 
It asks who decides what is ‘sensitive’ and how broad the definition is, recommending the Fair Work Australia makes such decisions in a closed hearing and in the absence of the other party.
 
On the matter of greenfield sites, Telstra says having to notify all relevant unions would add ‘unnecessary complexity’ to the process and recommends that one-year agreements be possible with no union involvement, or four years with the involvement of just one union.
 
Unions ‘must have members to enter workplaces’
 
Telstra also opposes unions having right of entry to workplaces where they are ‘entitled to represent’ employees.
 
‘In Telstra's submission, it is inappropriate, and does not serve the objects of the Bill or the right of entry provisions, to permit union right of entry where the relevant union may theoretically represent employees under its eligibility rules, but does not actually represent them in practice,’ Telstra says.
 
‘In particular, the right of occupiers of premises and employers to go about their business without undue inconvenience is likely to be seriously compromised.’
 
Instead, Telstra wants the Bill amended so unions can only enter the workplace where they have members. (This would have the effect of Telstra needing to be told which of its employees are union members, and would seriously inhibit union recruiting among workers).
 
Industrial objectives
 
‘As the Bill now stands, it will aid unions in furthering their own industrial objectives without needing to establish that they are serving the interests of their members,’ Telstra says.
 
To assist in achieving ‘balance’ in the right of entry provisions Telstra suggests that a union only be able to enter premises to investigate a suspected contravention of a fair work instrument, etc, where ‘requested to do so by a member of the organisation’.
 
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