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Tuesday, 27 May 2003
Page: 15035

Mr McCLELLAND (3:02 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Is it the case that the minister attended the premises of Morris McMahon in Arncliffe in my electorate last Friday, where there is a dispute about the right of workers—many of whom are from a non-English-speaking background—to collectively bargain? Can the minister confirm that the Australian Industrial Relations Commission found, in respect of that dispute, that the employer:

... engaged in a form of conduct that would merit sanction and prevention if relevant powers or defences were available. It has engaged in a bargaining practice that is not a fair labour practice. It has not bargained in good faith with the representatives of the bulk of its employees.

I ask the minister: given that the commission found that there is nothing in the minister's legislation to stop or prevent this unfairness, which I understand the minister has acknowledged, will the minister now change the Workplace Relations Act to give the independent umpire the power to direct parties to bargain in good faith?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —The short answer is no; I do not intend to change the Workplace Relations Act. Under the Workplace Relations Act, since 1997 some one million new jobs have been created, there has been more pay and there have been fewer strikes. This government should be judged on its record, and that is an industrial trifecta for ordinary workers: more jobs, higher pay and fewer strikes.

Under the government's legislation, workers certainly have a right to seek a particular form of industrial agreement; equally, employers have a right to seek a particular form of industrial agreement. I would like to see more agreements in the workplace, but I will not force people who do not agree to agree. I certainly will not force any business to sit down and negotiate an agreement with the AMWU when the AMWU has organised a picket line that, fairly consistently, has turned violent over the last few days.