Abbots IR policy

5 June 2013
In hiding for so long, the Coalition has finally released its industrial relations policy. We highlight some of the nasty surprises.

The return of the Building Commission 

The Coalition will bring back the Building Commission and it's unfair and regressive powers. Under the guise of improving productivity in the building industry, the return of the Building Commission will see construction workers subjected to compulsory examinations, excessive penalties, and a tightening of the building and construction code to restrict enterprise agreement content.

Right of Entry 

The Coalition has made it clear that they intend to wind back right of entry access for Union officials. Unions will be able to seek access to a workplace if:        

  • The Union is covered by an enterprise agreement that applies to the workplace;
  • The Union is a bargaining representative that is seeking to make an agreement to apply to the workplace; and
  • There is evidence that it has members who have requested their presence.

If a Union wishes to enter a workplace which is covered by a modern award, or, an enterprise agreement that does not cover that Union, access will only be allowed if:

  • The Union can demonstrate that they have, or had, a lawful representative role in that workplace;
  • There is evidence that the workers or members have requested the presence of the Union. 

What 'evidence' will be required to support an entry to a workplace is unclear.

The productivity commission review

Too scared to reveal the full extent of their attack on workers' rights in this country, the Coalition plans to ask the productivity commission to review the Fair Work and report on:

  • What impact the laws have had on productivity;
  • What ways the law could be changed to improve jobs, wages, and make workplaces work better.  

The Coalition will no doubt stack the terms of reference to ensure that it gets the result that it wants. 

Reforms to the regulation of Registered Organisations

The Coalition will establish a new independent regulatory agency known as the Registered Organisations Commission to monitor and enforce the new reporting and compliance obligations. It is possible that the Coalition will model the agency on the Certification Officer in the United Kingdom. The Coalition plans to also:

 

  • Amend the Fair Work (Registered Organisations Act) to ensure that penalties for contravention are the same as apply to companies and their directors as set out in the Corporations Act 2001;
  • Make the disclosure obligations of Registered Organisations align more closely with those required of ASX listed companies.
     

Each Registered Organisation would also need to disclose to each member a written one page document setting out expenditure on costs such as labour, advertising, capital, operating expenses and political donations.

Bullying

The Coalition plans to hobble the Labor system of dealing with the blight of bullying in the workplace, which comes into effect on 1 January, 2014. The Coalition plans to require those subject to bullying to lodge their complaint with a regulatory agency first prior to accessing the Fair Work jurisdiction. This will no doubt cause further delay and deny bullied employees the relief that they so desperately need.

The bullying laws will also be extended to apply to trade union officials and their conduct towards managers, employers and other workers. 

Greenfields agreements

The Coalition plans to introduce 'good faith bargaining rules' to cover Greenfields negotiations. They will also require any Greenfield agreement to be concluded within 3 months after which the employer will be free to apply to the Fair Work Commission for approval of the proposed agreement. It will need to pass the BOOT and will need to be assessed against prevailing conditions in the relevant industry. 

Enterprise Agreements

The Coalition plans to change the landscape of enterprise bargaining and tilt it in favour of employers by:

 

  • Making it clear that industrial action can only take place after there have been genuine discussions about the proposed agreement (the policy is silent on what happens when an employer refuses to bargain);
  • Requiring that the parties, during enterprise bargaining, discuss ways to improve productivity. Agreement does not have to be reached on what is to be done about improving productivity but the fact that the Coalition has decided to take a seat at the bargaining table and tell the parties what they must discuss is concerning.
  • The Fair Work Commission will be required to determine that claims made by a Union are 'realistic and sensible'. What this actually means is not defined. It does however allow the Commission to make a judgment on the claims being pursued by Unions when this should be a matter solely for the Union and its members.

 

Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal

It seems clear that the Coalition plans to abolish this body although they have said they will 'review it urgently'. The Tribunal plays an important role in regulating and establishing rates in an industry where too many people have needlessly lost their life. The formation of the Tribunal was one of the great achievements under Labor and the clear plans of the Coalition to abolish it are deeply disappointing.

It seems clear that the Coalition plans to abolish this body although they have said they will 'review it urgently'. The Tribunal plays an important role in regulating and establishing rates in an industry where too many people have needlessly lost their life. The formation of the Tribunal was one of the great achievements under Labor and the clear plans of the Coalition to abolish it are deeply disappointing.

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