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Wednesday, 21 August 2002
Page: 3429


Senator HARRIS (11:21 AM) —by leave—I move One Nation's amendments (1) to (8) on sheet 2586:

(1) Schedule 1, item 4, page 3 (after line 24), after the definition of bargaining services fee, insert:

endorsed bargaining services fee is:

(a) a bargaining services fee which according to the terms of a certified agreement may be payable by every employee and contractor that is not a member of the industrial association if the levy of that fee is approved by the majority of combined employees and independent contractors prior to the provision of the bargaining services;

Note: The approval of a majority of employees and independent contractors is to be established through a formal vote.

(b) subject to paragraph (c), an amount equivalent to the proportionate share of an individual employee's or independent contractor's share of an industrial association's expenditures that are incurred to support solely representational activities in the provision of bargaining services; and

Note: This amount is to be calculated only by reference to the disclosed accounting records of the industrial association that demands the payment of the endorsed bargaining services fee.

(c) an amount which (together with any other endorsed bargaining services fees payable in respect of the same year) does not exceed the membership dues that would be payable to the industrial association if the individual employee or contractor were instead a member for that year.

(2) Schedule 1, item 6, page 4 (line 4), at the end of paragraph (o), add “other than an endorsed bargaining services fee”.

(3) Schedule 1, item 7, page 4 (line 17), at the end of subsection (2), add “other than an endorsed bargaining services fee”.

(4) Schedule 1, item 8, page 4 (line 33), at the end of subsection (4), add “other than an endorsed bargaining services fee”.

(5) Schedule 1, item 9, page 5 (line 5), at the end of subsection (1), insert “other than an endorsed bargaining services fee”.

(6) Schedule 1, item 9, page 5 (line 19), at the end of section 298SB, add “other than an endorsed bargaining services fee”.

(7) Schedule 1, item 11, page 6 (line 10), at the end of subsection (2), add “other than an endorsed bargaining services fee”.

(8) Schedule 1, item 12, page 6 (line 20), at the end of paragraph (5)(b), add “other than an endorsed bargaining services fee”.

In moving these amendments to the Workplace Relations Amendment (Prohibition of Compulsory Union Fees) Bill 2002, I would like to convey to the chamber the reason for proposing these amendments to the government's bill. The government's bill, in its present form, would ban an agreement that has been established within a workplace for not only union members but also non-union members to pay a bargaining fee. Provided there is agreement from the majority of the people who are within that workplace, that that majority is established by a formal vote of the people within the workplace and that that majority agrees to pay a bargaining fee for the services the union provides, I believe these amendments will alter the bill in such a way as to give those people within that workplace the ability to exercise their own right of choice. Item (1)(b) says clearly:

(b) subject to paragraph (c), an amount equivalent to the proportionate share of an individual employee or independent contractor's share of an industrial association's expenditures that are incurred to support solely representational activities in the provision of bargaining services;

So there would be accountability to the union to prove that the figures they are putting forward are explicitly for progressing that particular enterprise bargaining agreement. Item (1)(c) goes further and says:

(c) an amount which (together with any other endorsed bargaining services fees payable in respect of the same year) ...

So, if there happens to be more than one round of bargaining in a year within a single workplace, the collective bargaining fees agreed to by the majority of people within that workplace could not exceed the union fees for that year. Because of the complexities of the bargaining in relation to an agreed outcome, we have a situation where at times it may take more than 12 months to achieve. So the purpose of (c) is that, if the agreement is concluded within one year, the cost of the bargaining fee for that particular enterprise agreement cannot be greater than the union fees paid by the union members in that one year. If the bargaining process takes more than one fiscal year, again the amount payable for the total bargaining period should not be greater than the union fees for any one year.

I believe that this is an essential amendment to the legislation. Senator Alston made the comment that, if people are willing to enter into an agreement, they can do it and that they should be informed of what the cost of that would be prior to the agreement commencing. One Nation's amendments achieve both of those things. But, rather than leaving it in the realms of uncertainty, the amendments clarify very well the intention that, if a group of people agree, that group of people would be required to pay a bargaining fee provided it was not greater than the union fees for that year.

Let us look at a practical application of a union entering into an enterprise bargaining agreement for, say, the fire services in Queensland. If there were a group of people employed in the Brisbane metropolitan area and a majority of them agreed that they would contribute to a bargaining fee established prior to the commencement of bargaining, that centre would contribute to the bargaining fee. On the other hand, if there were not a majority in support of that bargaining fee in Rockhampton, those people ought not to be required to pay that fee. I use that explanation to clarify the amendments I am putting forward.

If we look at the figures that I mentioned in my speech in the second reading debate in relation to the number of agreements that the unions are facing—and I will just go back to that—the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, for example, is party to 1,600 certified agreements expiring between 1 April and 31 August 2001. So the union would either have concluded those or be in the negotiation process for them. The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union estimates that, in the 15 months from March 2001, approximately 3,800 agreements have been concluded. So there is a substantial cost to the unions in actually achieving those agreements. This amendment will not assist those agreements that have been started or concluded, but in the future it would allow the people within a workplace to decide prior to the enterprise bargaining agreement commencing, providing it was agreed to by a formal vote, whether a bargaining fee would be applied. I reiterate that Senator Alston indicated that people could do this if they were willing and if they were informed. These amendments achieve both of those things but they also, with clarity, set out the way to actually achieve them. I commend One Nation's amendments to the chamber.