Target: collective bargaining
Legislation aimed at preventing workers from bargaining collectively is currently before Federal Parliament. The legislation, the latest offensive by Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith in his attempt to deunionise the workforce, is aimed squarely at pattern bargaining. The proposed laws would subvert the operation of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission by compelling it order strikes to cease in 48 hours if requested by an employer and terminate bargaining periods if it considers that a union is pursuing a common claim that would apply to employers throughout an industry, i.e. pattern bargaining. The Commission would be given the power to ban strikes for a given "cooling off" period. Unions would be prevented from taking their case to the Federal Court — where they have had a measure of success — when employers take common law actions in State Supreme Courts. The legislation is dependent on the Democrats' support in the Senate for it to be passed into law. ACTU President Sharan Burrow described this latest move to wind back the right of workers to bargain collectively as an attack on the living standards of Australian workers. "Mr Reith wants to limit and restrict the right of workers to protect their standard of living by bargaining collectively", she said, adding that the laws would make it harder for ordinary Australians to protect their living standards against rising interest rates and the GST. Furthermore, International Labour Organisation standards enshrine the right of workers to bargain collectively on an industry basis, a practice common in most industrialised countries. Australia's industrial relations laws are already in breach of ILO standards. "The big issues aren't always best resolved at the enterprise level", Ms Burrow pointed out. "Workers in many Australian industries are increasingly facing issues that are industry-wide and require an industry response. "Instead of interfering in legitimate and internationally accepted industrial processes, Mr Reith should focus on addressing the issues that the Australian community are really concerned about — the GST and rising interest rates, increased working hours, job security and training and apprenticeship opportunities for the young."