The national Jobs and Skills Summit concluded that Australia’s industrial relations system is broken.
Don’t take my word for it. It was something that unions and employers alike agreed on.
As a Union we’re painfully aware of the hurdles in the system for workers.
Most employers and unions can just get on with bargaining and should be able to do this without rules restricting how and what they talk about. One of the big issues many unions have is that there are many issues that cannot be raised during negotiations and claims on those issues are not allowed under current laws.
The system around enterprise agreement bargaining can and should be made simpler and fairer given that current laws deliberately disempower workers and Unions. The power imbalance caused by the current law has been universally identified, including by the reserve bank, as the root cause of historically low wage increases.
The Commission should be given powers to assist and resolve bargaining disputes like employers using stalling strategies to effectively cancel negotiations to block wage increases. For example, Dorevitch Pathology created a decade long wage freeze using this strategy.
By strengthening the role of the Commission, it would be possible to create a system which is fair, efficient and easier for most unions and employers to bargain, while also ensuring there is fairness in bargaining for the minority of unions and employers who need assistance.
The forum heard that one of the pressing issues for the union movement is that collective bargaining has become extremely lopsided. It’s a major reason why wage outcomes are low.
Our bargaining system should encourage and support bargaining with the Fair Work Commission playing a role in ensuring bargaining is done between equal parties. A revised system needs to ensure that wage increases are achieved in every negotiation.
Loopholes which have created this lopsided environment in bargaining must be closed. Employers must no longer be able to threaten to cancel enterprise agreements as a bargaining tactic and should not be able to actively slow negotiations in order to weaken bargaining.
While unions are not allowed to take extreme forms of industrial action, the same is not true for employers.
The current ‘rights’ given to employers to lock out workers in response to industrial action needs to be removed from our IR laws. There is no justification for continuing this shameful ‘right’ which has resulted in appalling suffering for workers who are doing no more than trying to negotiate wage increases to keep on top of escalating living costs.
For too long we’ve heard the mantra about increasing productivity means increasing wages, but we all know that this is code for cost cutting and driving down wages. It has been used to cut terms and conditions from enterprise agreements, stifle and limit career opportunities or encourage workers to gain new skills.
New IR laws need to encourage innovation rather than make it easier for employers, or sadly in some cases the Fair Work Commission, to cut worker entitlements to reduce employer costs.
For 30 years the system has stayed the same while our economy and labour market has changed dramatically.
We need a new modern bargaining system to get wages moving and we can no longer afford inaction on wage growth.
The union movement is committed to working with the government and employer groups to deliver a modern bargaining system; and one that will ensure greater fairness that delivers real growth in wages.