The Guardian August 30, 2000


Another attempt to thwart collective bargaining

The Federal Government is still persisting with amendments to the 
Workplace Relations Act to outlaw pattern bargaining. The Workplace 
Relations Amendment Bill 2000, currently before the Senate, is yet another 
attack on the right of trade unions to collectively bargain and to take 
strike action.

The original Workplace Relations Act stripped awards and forced workers and 
their unions into enterprise bargaining. The aim being to completely 
decentralise the determination of wages and conditions and replace the old 
award system by non-union enterprise agreements and individual contracts.

Whereas the one award covered many workers employed by different employers, 
enterprise agreements are confined to a workplace or a single employer.

Decentralisation weakens the capacity of trade unions to bargain and defend 
their members' interests. Each workplace has to bargain separately.

This makes it possible for employers to break down conditions in workplaces 
where the union is not strong, creating a downward pressure on wages and 
conditions.

Peter Reith's secondary boycott legislation outlaws sympathy strikes and 
solidarity actions such as refusing to cross a picket line. This also 
weakens the capacity of unions to fight.

One of the means by which unions have attempted to continue national 
campaigns and retain relativity of wages and conditions is by pattern 
bargaining.

This involves unions campaigning around a common claim on an industry or 
some other basis, covering a number of employers.

The pattern bargaining bill virtually outlaws pattern bargaining. It gives 
the Industrial Relations Commission new powers under Section 127 of the Act 
to stop industrial action involving pattern bargaining.

If such an order is requested, the Commission must make a decision within 
48 hours. If it cannot complete its deliberations within 48 hours it must 
issue an interim order for the action to cease.

The bill removes any "protection" for industrial action related to pattern 
bargaining during a bargaining period, meaning employers can sue the 
unions, union officials and workers for damages under common law.

The government had hoped to get the bill passed before July 1, to be able 
to use it against the AMWU's Campaign 2000, and against the building unions 
who have used it successfully in Victoria in their campaign for a shorter 
working week.

The ALP has opposed it and the Australian Democrats have knocked the Bill 
back, but are monitoring the situation.

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