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Abbott government proposes new bargaining rules

The federal government wants to introduce new laws that will make it harder for working people to win pay rises and to maintain decent working conditions through bargaining.

If passed, they will change the grounds rules for our bargaining with companies like Telstra and Optus, where the CWU is due to negotiate new agreements next year.

Employment Minister Abetz is proposing changes to the Fair Work Act that will:

  • Require negotiators to demonstrate that they have considered productivity improvements when striking new Enterprise Agreements.
  • Require the commission to be satisfied that bargaining claims are “realistic and sensible’’ before the tribunal can approve an application to take protected industrial action.

The first requirement may sound reasonable. Unfortunately, “productivity improvements” is Abbott government code for major trade-offs of conditions in return for modest – or non-existent – wage rises.

Anyone in any doubt need only look at what the government is trying to impose on commonwealth public sector workers. As reported in recent E-bulletins, the government is insisting that its own employees’ conditions be cut back, in return for wage rises which in some cases are below inflation (i.e. real wage cuts).

That’s what it would like to do to everyone.

As for the second requirement, who is to say what is “realistic and sensible”? Or what claims are “excessive”?

For Abetz, of course, the answer is simple. Any wage claim above inflation (i.e. a real wage increase) is unrealistic or excessive unless off-set by a reduction in conditions – longer working hours, for instance, or cuts to penalty rates.

Any other approach, Abetz says, will simply lead to companies being driven to the wall by competitors.

This is simply a recipe for a race to the bottom, not for real productivity gains which flow from such things as innovation, investment and skill development – from working smarter, not longer and for less reward. 

CWU members, especially those in Telstra and Optus, will be watching the progress of these proposals closely. They need to be added to the list of those which the union movement is already seeking to have defeated in the Senate (see article titled 'Stop Abbott's anti-worker laws!).

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