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1 September 2022 

Maurice Blackburn National Head of Employment and Industrial Law Josh Bornstein said the recent agreement reached between the ACTU and COSBOA to pursue multi-employer bargaining was a welcome step and it was hoped similar consensus on bargaining could be reached more widely as part of the Federal Government’s Jobs and Skills Summit this week.

“Our current system of bargaining is a relic of another era when large manufacturing factories were filled by (mainly) men working in secure full-time jobs. That era left us long ago. For most workers in the Australian labour market it is no longer fit for purpose,” Mr Bornstein said.  

“One of the consequences of having a rigid one size fits all approach to wage bargaining is that it has encouraged large businesses to avoid bargaining by restructuring. Large companies have ‘fissured’ their businesses by replacing full time directly employed workers with those sourced indirectly from intermediaries like labour hire companies.

“For decades, big business lobby groups and big companies such as Qantas have relentlessly and successfully pushed for ‘flexibility’ in the IR system and the changes that have been made have allowed them to escape from the bargaining system. This phenomenon continues to this day.  

“In the middle of the pandemic, Qantas sacked 2000 workers in order to avoid bargaining with them and their union, the TWU.  

“Despite those actions being found to be illegal by the Federal Court, the workers won’t be reinstated. Qantas now sources its baggage handlers from labour hire companies. Those workers aren’t allowed to bargain with Qantas under our outdated system. Qantas has eliminated collective bargaining for this group of workers. Instead it can unilaterally set the price of their labour by telling the labour hire companies that retain them that ‘this is the price we are willing to pay, take it or leave it’.  

“It is impossible within our current IR system to prevent major corporations who are similarly seeking to deprive workers of the ability to collectively bargain.

“A flexible collective bargaining system that accommodates the complexity of the labour market is long overdue. That’s why the agreement announced this week by the ACTU and COSBOA to jointly pursue laws allowing multi-employer bargaining for small business employees is welcome. We need to see effective bargaining for big, medium and small workplaces, for the care sector, for labour hire, labour supply chains, franchises and the gig economy,” he said. 

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