Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here’s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.


 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate

Subscribe!
Subscribe





On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.
___________

Syndicate
RSS/XML


RSS 2.0

Delivering to the unions

By John Roskam - posted Monday, 14 September 2009


If you ever wanted to know the impact of Kevin Rudd's industrial relations policies there are easy ways of finding out. You could read the decision (September 2, 2009) of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, which declared that "award simplification" will simultaneously cut employee wages and increase costs to business. Or you could go to the web site of Fair Work Australia and read some of that organisation's recent decisions.

You'll see for yourself how Australia runs the risk of returning to the industrial relations dark ages. And you'll also see what the Rudd Government delivered to the unions in exchange for the ACTU helping get the ALP elected.

Fair Work Australia began on July 1 and administers Labor's Fair Work Act. The legislation requires employers and unions to bargain in "good faith", Even though good faith bargaining is a new principle in Australian law the unions knew exactly what they were doing when they demanded the ALP include good faith requirements in the Fair Work Act.

Advertisement

At the Fair Work Australia website you can study the decision of National Union of Workers v Defries Industries Pty Ltd (B2009/10439) made recently. Defries Industries is just the sort of business Kevin Rudd would like. Some might say it is a bit of an Australian manufacturing industry success story. Based in Melbourne, it is a family owned company with more than 100 staff, making and exporting medical products ranging from surgical forceps to wound dressings.

Throughout July the company had been in discussions with its employees about an enterprise agreement. The company had planned its staff would vote on the agreement at the beginning of August. On July 7 the National Union of Workers served a log of claims on Defries on behalf of those 40 per cent of the company's employees who were union members.

After two meetings in July between the union and the company tile union went to Fair Work Australia and complained Defries wasn't bargaining in good faith as required by the Fair Work Act. On August 10 Fair Work Australia agreed with the union and ordered the vote on the enterprise agreement be cancelled and directed the company to negotiate with the union.

What's interesting is that the views of the majority of Defries employees who were not union members and who may have wanted to vote on the enterprise agreement appear not have to been considered by Fair Work Australia. Further, Fair Work Australia declared the company was not allowed to communicate with the 60 per cent of its employees who were not union members because the union, which represented 40 per cent of employees, was not given the chance to tell the company what the company should say.

According to Fair Work Australia, Defries was not bargaining in good faith because its two meetings with the union had been too short and the company refused to negotiate with the union on issues that Defries had decided were non-negotiable. The first meeting between the company and the union lasted 10 minutes and the second was 15 minutes. It didn't seem to occur to Fair Work Australia that the reason the meetings were so short was because the union wanted to negotiate, on precisely the things the company had said were non-negotiable.

What's happening at Defries Industries is not an isolated case. As industrial relations lawyer John Pesutto explains in a forthcoming research paper, it's becoming obvious that good faith bargaining is the vehicle by which unions will regain and expand their influence.

Advertisement

While only 14 per cent of private-sector employees are union members, a union doesn't need to have the majority of a company's employees as members to achieve its aims - as the experience at Defries demonstrates. Good faith bargaining requirements give unions an array of opportunities to delay and frustrate employers so that in the end some employers will find it easier to simply capitulate.

In July Fair Work Australia ordered the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre to cancel its employees' vote on an enterprise agreement because the centre had not had a meeting with the relevant union to discuss the agreement - even though the union had not indicated it had ever wanted a meeting.

The shape of the industrial relations regime under Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard is becoming clear. And all those business lobby groups who sat on their hands while WorkChoices was abolished and the Fair Work Act introduced in the hope they would somehow get a better deal can now see exactly what their strategy achieved.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. All

First published in the Australian Financial Review on September 4, 2009 as "Dark Ages is the Real Deal".

Advertisement
 Institute of Public Affairs Advertisement

 

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

3 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with del.icio.us Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

John Roskam is executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by John Roskam

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of John Roskam
Article Tools
Comment 3 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend
Latest from Institute of Public Affairs
 No reality holiday from this population challenge
 For budgets only smaller is tougher
 Government subsidies to green groups must end
 Boot-strapping on a carbon tax
 West's history not complete without reference to Christianity
 More...
Deals from Sponsor
Flipit.com Australia
Use this coupon code for The Iconic to get 20% off sitewide when you spend $79 or more
Vision Direct coupon code: Get 20% discount when you add lenses to frames
ValueBasket discount code: Get $8 off any order of $330 or more
Amaysim coupon code: Get your first month for half price when you buy online
Alibi coupon code: Get 10% off sitewide and get free shipping
Advertisement

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy