The Guardian May 17, 2000


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."

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