Unions, employers want IR Bill amended — in opposite ways


Unions, employers want IR Bill amended — in opposite ways

The ACTU and two major employer bodies agree that the Federal Government Fair Work Bill needs to be amended — they just want conflicting amendments.


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The ACTU and two major employer bodies agree that the Federal Government Fair Work Bill needs to be amended — they just want conflicting amendments.
The ACTU this week warned the Senate Committee inquiring into the legislation that ‘workers need protection in good times and in bad’.
ACTU president Sharan Burrow said working Australians are already experiencing cuts to their hours of employment and downgrading of their conditions as businesses respond to the economic downturn.
‘The state of the economy only makes it more urgent that the Fair Work Bill is passed by the Senate,’ she said.
Workers exposed to rip-offs, says ACTU
‘Working Australians remain highly exposed to rip-offs in this downturn because of WorkChoices.'
‘Under WorkChoices, businesses have had the freedom to sack people unfairly, to use individual contracts to slash wages and conditions such as redundancy pay, and to deny workers the right to collective bargaining and union representation.’
‘The danger is that without new IR laws employers could use the economic crisis as an excuse to attack the wages and conditions of workers so they can preserve profits for shareholders and keep obscene executive salaries.’
In its submission to the Inquiry, the ACTU wants the Bill amended to remove limits on what workers and employers can bargain about, because this would prevent workers from bargaining for better unfair dismissal protections and for improved access to advice and assistance from unions in their workplace.
It also says the right to request flexible work for family reasons is ‘meaningless’ if an employer can still refuse on business grounds without any right to review.
As well, the ACTU says the scope for multi-employer bargaining needs to made consistent with international labour standards.
Such amendments would be completely anathema to the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) and The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI), both of which want union power curtailed. ACCI told the Inquiry of its concerns in its submission.
ACCI’s amendments
In evidence to the Inquiry yesterday (Tuesday) ACCI said its principal areas needing amendment are:
  • significantly increased costs under new awards and legislated employment standards
  • new good faith bargaining orders and non or lowly-unionised businesses being pressured to concede union claims for higher wages and conditions beyond legal standards
  • the introduction of pay obligations over and above award minimums, secured by unions through multi-employer bargaining (the so called low-paid bargaining stream)
  • unions pursuing arbitration in excess of established community standards, increasing labour costs for employers
  • expanded capacity for trade unions to enter workplaces (right of entry), and inspect the personal records of employees who choose not to join trade unions
  • potentially complex tests for the approval of agreements
  • reintroducing unfair dismissal laws for small business, and complicating redundancies and their exemption from unfair dismissal laws
  • greater exposure to complex and costly litigation, including injunctions stopping restructuring, and dismissal and complicated adverse actions claims
  • the introduction of new rules on the transfer of business ownership.
ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said Australia’s industrial relations laws have a crucial role to play as the nation confronts the global economic downturn, and the Senate has an opportunity to get the IR laws as right as possible within the current government’s overall policies.
Ai Group chief executive Heather Ridout will give evidence to the Inquiry today (Wednesday).
Ai Group wants 7 changes
Ridout will tell the Inquiry the Bill needs to be amended in seven key areas:
  1. The Bill substantially increases union entry rights, giving each union access to a much wider range of workplaces and giving union officials access to wage records of non-union members. The existing entry rights are appropriate and should not be expanded.
  2. A union should not be entitled to be covered by an enterprise agreement if only a minority of the employees are union members. A union should only be entitled to be covered if the agreement specifies that the union is covered by it, and the agreement is made with the union.
  3. Unless amended, the greenfields agreement provisions will result in substantial delays in the commencement of construction projects and increased construction costs.
  4. Ai Group has concerns about the drafting of some of the Bill’s provisions relating to enterprise agreement making and the potential for interpretation problems to arise. Important changes are proposed to various provisions including those relating to dispute settling, an employer’s obligation to bargain, Fair Work Australia’s powers, and the criteria for majority support determinations and scope orders.
  5. The low-paid bargaining stream, which would have the effect of reintroducing compulsory arbitration, would undermine Australia’s enterprise bargaining system and add a further layer of arbitrated employment conditions above the safety net. It should be scrapped.
  6. The Bill’s approach of preventing enterprise agreements overriding state and yerritory long service leave laws would disadvantages all parties.
  7. The transfer of business provisions of the Bill are very problematic and will cause major problems for businesses in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT), contract call centre, cleaning, catering and a wide range of other industries which carry out work outsourced from other industries.


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