||Issue No. 324||15 September 2006|
Interview: Australia’s Most Wanted
Industrial: The Fox and the Contractor
Unions: Industrial Wasteland
International: Two Bob's Worth
Economics: National Interest
Environment: The Real Dinosaur
History: Only In Spain?
Review: Clerk Off
Within hours of Greg Combet unveiling the union proposal for enforceable bargaining rights the Prime Minister, his business boosters and his sponsors in the media were distorting the proposition for collective bargaining rights in the most perverted way.
The essence of this attack was the union proposition that a union member has a right to be represented by their union and that, if a majority of their workmates decide they want a collective agreement, the employer must bargain in good faith.
This proposition has three important elements all missing under Howard's IR laws.
First, the right to be represented by a union. Under Howard's laws union representation in bargaining is purely at the discretion of the employer. Workers can be hired on Awa's that exclude union representation - and this can be on a take the job or leave it basis.
Second, the right for a majority of workers, if they choose, to negotiate a collective agreement. Under Howard's laws it's up to the employer. One hundred per cent of the workforce can want a collective deal and if the employer doesn't want to play ball, forget it. Under the ACTU plan, union members have a right to be represented - and a right to ask fellow workers if they would like to join the collective.
Finally, good faith bargaining. Under Howard's laws an employer can just refuse to negotiate, wait for a current collective agreement to lapse and impose individual contracts that undermine the award.
And you wonder why the business community, and the Liberal Party which seems to hate unions more than it likes holding onto power, are working themselves into a lather.
The shrill response from the PM this week was that the ACTU proposition meant that if a union has a single member it can force a collective agreement on the workforce. What rot.
But the employer lobby and sections of the media that see their job as being to win the IR debate not to cover it, went into a lather. This was the greatest affront to democracy since Kim Beazley vowed to scrap AWAs.
This democracy line deserves a bit of scrutiny - because it goes to the heart of workplace bargaining rights.
The basic principle is that workers have a democratic right to bargain - the majority determines the form off the agreement and, ultimately, whether the agreement is accepted or not.
The PM and the employer lobby rejects this argument - on the basis that under this formula and individual worker would lose their democratic right to bargain individually.
But how can this be democracy? How can the will of one in the face of the majority have anything to do with democracy? Surely this is closer to the principles of anarchy - each to their own with no regard for the others.
Let's face it, For business, whose industrial imperative is to reduce labour costs - surely a disconnected anarchy of a workforce is a far better target than a strong democracy.
Like so much of the IR debate, the government is attempting to lie and confuse and call black white and night day, to convince people it has not done what it has done - to shift the power in the workplace to the employer.
Yes, the ACTU recommendations on bargaining are just a starting point in winning back the workplace. But given the reaction this week, they are step in the right direction.
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