En­ter­prise bar­gains ‘a colos­sal fail­ure’

The Weekend Australian - - OUTLOOK CONFERENCE 2018 - EWIN HANNAN

En­ter­prise bar­gain­ing had been a colos­sal fail­ure and should be dis­man­tled, with in­dus­try bar­gain­ing re­vived and the states given the power to lift min­i­mum wages above the fed­eral min­i­mum wage, former se­nior ACTU of­fi­cial Tim Lyons says.

Mr Lyons told the Out­look Con­fer­ence that low wages growth re­flected the weak­ness of key labour mar­ket in­sti­tu­tions, in­clud­ing unions, the award sys­tem and en­ter­prise bar­gain­ing.

He said these weak­nesses were com­pounded by un­der­em­ploy­ment and the power of employers, in­clud­ing ma­jor com­pa­nies such as Coles and Wool­worths, to af­fect the wages of tens of thou­sands of work­ers through­out sup­ply chains.

He said “en­ter­prise bar­gain­ing needed to be re­garded as a colos­sal fail­ure” be­cause most work­ers had not been able to ex­er­cise enough com­bined power at an en­ter­prise level to get pay rises.

Mr Lyons, a re­search fel­low with think tank Per Capita, said the di­men­sions of wage theft in Aus­tralia were enor­mous while employers were us­ing the “weapon” of applying to ter­mi­nate en­ter­prise agree­ments.

While ag­gres­sive wage poli­cies by fed­eral and state gov­ern­ments had con­trib­uted to low wages, he said unions needed to ac­cept their share of the blame as they had failed to de­velop new ways to take ef­fec­tive col­lec­tive ac­tion be­yond tra­di­tion­ally unionised in­dus­tries.

He said strikes had be­come “sta­tis­ti­cally ex­tinct” and Aus­tralia ef­fec­tively had “zero rates of in­dus­trial ac­tion”.

He sug­gested en­ter­prise bar­gain­ing should be dis­man­tled and re­placed with a sys­tem that al­lowed for in­dus­try and sec­tor­wide bar­gain­ing.

La­bor has left open leg­is­lat­ing to al­low work­ers to strike in sup­port of sec­tor-wide pay claims, and unions in­sist in­dus­trial ac­tion in sup­port of sec­tor-wide pay claims would be a “last re­sort”, dis­miss­ing Coali­tion and em­ployer warn­ings that the union move­ment’s wage pol­icy was a re­turn to the 1970s.

Dur­ing the cur­rent low-wages en­vi­ron­ment, unions in the con­struc­tion sec­tor have con­tin­ued to se­cure an­nual pay rises of 4 and 5 per cent, but Mr Lyons said employers in the sec­tor passed on the costs of en­ter­prise agree­ments and it would be ab­surd to ex­clude the sec­tor from in­dus­try bar­gain­ing be­cause it had a high rate of union­ism.

Un­der his in­dus­try bar­gain­ing model, work­ers across com­pa­nies in one sec­tor or in­dus­try would re­ceive the same wages for the same work. They would work the same base hours and re­ceive basic en­ti­tle­ments in­clud­ing su­per­an­nu­a­tion and an­nual leave.

Man­age­ment and work­ers could ne­go­ti­ate at an en­ter­prise level over dif­fer­ent pro­duc­tiv­i­tyen­hanc­ing prac­tices in­clud­ing work prac­tices and the ex­act pat­tern of work­ing hours.

Mr Lyons said the Fair Work Act should be amended to al­low the states to de­ter­mine higher min­i­mum wages than the fed­eral min­i­mum wage. Un­der pro­posed changes to fed­eral laws, states would have the ca­pac­ity to set up their own tri­bunals that would de­ter­mine whether higher min­i­mum wages were jus­ti­fied at a state level.

Mr Lyons said the fed­eral min­i­mum wage would act as the “floor” for the pro­posed state ju­ris­dic­tion.

He said wages could be fur­ther lifted though stronger equal-pay pro­vi­sions and changes to the low­paid bar­gain­ing stream, which had de­liv­ered zero out­comes for work­ers.

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