||Issue No. 133||26 April 2002|
The Struggle Continues
Interview: If The Commission Pleases
History: Protest and Celebrate
Unions: A Novel Approach
Industrial: Hare Tony, Hare Tony
International: Never Forget Jenin
Politics: Left Right Out In France
Health: Delivering A Public Health Revolution
Review: The Secret Life of U(nion)s
Poetry: May Day, May Day
The Locker Room
Week in Review
Gold Star Student
Time for a General Strike?
Hare Tony, Hare Tony
Tony Abbott certainly believes if you repeat it often enough a baseless assertion becomes fact.
If you gut the Unfair Dismissal laws, for example, hey zippo, 50,000 new jobs miraculously materialise. Or by rabbiting on that pattern bargaining is an inherently evil, job-killing practice cooked up by those unreconstructed collectivists in the union movement who refuse to genuflect before the altar of the free market.
This year he has reheated the same old IR stodge the Coalition has put in front of the senate since sliming their way to power in 1996 aiming to gut unfair dismissal laws, outlaw pattern bargaining and undermine the commission's ability to resolve disputes.
This week an independent voice added to the concerns consistently raised by unions about a central feature of the Government's changes - the undermining of our international obligations.
Justice Michael Kirby, a former Deputy President of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission, highlighted the important role of international human rights standards in ILO and international conventions have to play in Australian IR law.
Delivering Sydney University's annual Kingsley Laffer Lecture, Justice Kirby said that when Australia knocked down its tariff walls, abandoned compulsory arbitration and opened up its borders to international trade it also opened up the borders to the influence of other international ideas and forces.
'Amongst those ideas are those in the ILO conventions. And amongst the most powerful ideas affecting our planet at this time are those that assert the common obligation to respect and defend fundamental human rights and human dignity in all aspects of life,' he said. 'With global markets come global forces of basic rights.'
An ACTU submission to the senate inquiry on Abbott's proposed changes suggests the Government is swimming against this tide. The ACTU points out that no comparable country imposes the same restrictions on industry-wide and multi-employer bargaining and agreement making as Australia. In fact industry-wide bargaining is the general model in most European countries.
These restrictions have been the subject of ILO criticism in recent years and are taken to even greater levels with Abbott's new laws.
Abbott's attempts to prevent unions charging bargaining fees to non-union members benefiting from union-negotiated agreements are also contrary to the ILO's commitment to freedom of association.
ACTU President Sharan Burrow says with its new laws the Government wants to put the playing field on Mount Kosciosko with the bosses kicking downhill.
'These rehashed bills are about reducing the rights of employees particularly those who work in the most vulnerable jobs and increasing the power of employers. And by turning his back on ILO conventions he's taking our growing international isolation into even new areas,' she says.
Summary of the ACTU Submission to the senate inquiry
The ACTU is opposed to the passage of all five Bills currently being considered by the Committee.
The subject matter of each of the Bills has been before the Parliament and/or the Committee on at least one occasion, reflecting the lack of any positive thinking by the Government, and its reliance on pursuing the same discredited line of attack on unions and its political opponents.
The ACTU Submission incorporates some relevant material put to previous inquiries.
Each Bill is directed towards the Government's two key objectives in industrial relations law "reform":
First, to reduce the rights and entitlements of employees, particularly those who occupy the most vulnerable positions in the labour market; and
Second, to strengthen the bargaining position of employers in disputes with unions and their members.
The ACTU supports real industrial relations reform, and urges the Committee to recommend legislation to:
� ensure all employees receive fair and relevant wages and conditions;
� strengthen the role of the Industrial Relations Commission; and
� bring Australian law on freedom of association and collective bargaining into conformity with international standards.
The Genuine Bargaining Bill
� There are no industrial circumstances to justify the Bill.
� Common claims and similar outcomes are a normal component of bargaining, engaged in by employers as well as unions.
� The Bill would have the effect of prohibiting common claims.
� The Bill would create a presumption which would operate to fetter the Commission's discretion.
� The ability to bargain on a multi-employer or industry-wide level is available in every developed nation internationally and is integral to the ILO's core labour standards.
� Industry-wide bargaining is not a barrier to employment or productivity.
The Fair Dismissal Bill
� The Parliament has already rejected a small business exemption from the unfair dismissal laws.
� There is no evidence for a link between small business employment and unfair dismissal legislation.
� There is no economic justification for special treatment for small business, particularly where this affects the rights of employees.
� Small business operators do not identify unfair dismissal laws as a major problem.
The Fair Termination Bill
� The 12 month employment requirement for casual coverage is outside the "short period" permitted by the ILO Convention.
� There is no evidence that casual employment is linked to unfair dismissal legislation.
� Encouragement of casual employment is, in any event, undesirable.
� The filing fee operates as a barrier to access to justice for low paid employees.
The Secret Ballots Bill
� There is no evidence of a demand from employers or employees for mandatory pre-strike secret ballots, not is this justified by the level of industrial disputes.
� Pre-strike ballot legislation in Western Australia was an abysmal failure.
� The changes in the 2002 Bill from earlier versions do not make the system significantly less cumbersome or restrictive.
� The proposed system is very substantially more restrictive than the UK model, particularly with the requirement to obtain an order from a tribunal prior to the ballot and in the form of the question to be asked.
The Compulsory Union Fees Bill
� The issue of bargaining fees and related questions are currently before the Commission and the Court, which should be allowed to make their determinations without pre-emptive legislation.
� Parties to a collectively bargaining agreement should be entitled to include provision for bargaining fees.
� Coercive conduct is already unlawful, as is compulsory unionism.
� Bargaining fees are permitted in other countries with a strong commitment to freedom of association.
� The ILO does not see as bargaining fees as inconsistent with freedom of association.
� It is only fair that non-union members contribute towards the cost of union-negotiated collective agreements when they benefit from such agreements.
The entire submission can be downloaded from the ACTU website.
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