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Notices of centralised industrial relations demise premature

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Bob Charles 11 Federal Member for La Trobe




Since the 13th March it has been widely prophesied that the Keating Government will act as executioner of our state controlled labor market. Such assumptions are premature and founded in the main more on hope than logic.

It is true that Prime Minister Paul Keating did himself raise expectations of comprehensive deregulation of the labor market in his speech last month to the Institute of Company Directors. Keating promised enterprise bargaining in both

union and non-union shops, reduction of government interference in wage and condition setting processes, a legislated set of minima and the end of compulsory arbitration.

Both Australia and New Zealand have virtually a century of experience with compulsory arbitration, centralised bureaucratic procedures for bargaining/fixing of wages and conditions and trade union organisations developed on craft/trade lines rather than enterprise or industry. Both countries boast a major political party

(Labor) financially and organisationally tied to employee trade unions.

These Australian and New Zealand arrangements are unique amoung the major industrialised countries of the world.

The New Zealand Labor Party in power from 1984 . 1990 Introduced voluntary arbitration to replace compulsion and redirected occupational (craft/trade) bargaining to Industry and enterprise bargaining.

The Australian Labor Party, 1983 to present, introduced national wage cases; institutionalised "accords" between government and unions; reorganised small craft unions Into super union groups and Introduced enterprise bargaining but only where a union Is a party to the agreement.

In 1990-91 the New Zealand National Party largely deregulated the labour market. In 1993 the Australian Labor Party (Prime Minister Keating and Industrial Relations Minister Brereton) proposes to deregulate the Australian labour market. That they will do so in a comprehensive manner is at best problematic but realistically


Australia's powerful trade union bureaucracy is highly unlikely to le} their political partner reduce the value of their monopoly position in representing employee interests. Union on-the- ground and financial assistance to the ALP during the CosvlMONWEALTH 12




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recent Federal Election campaign was a major factor In Labor's return to the

Government benches and the unions will not let Paul Keating forget.

The super unions built up under Senator Cook are totally inconsistent with the concept of "enterprise" bargaining and union officials will not give up their positions, membership or control without a fight.

Any attempt by Brereton to introduce the concept of enterprise unions would destroy the credibility and effectiveness of the super unions which even the ACTU would reject. The national safety net provisions promised by Keating are likely to be high and therefore simply introduce another set of regulations and controls to

replace some portion of the current award system.

On the other side, employers will not accept repeal of the secondary boycotts position of the Trade Practices Act without a major battle. They will also reject a legislated right to strike without substantial sanctions and legislated rules and procedures. Another layer of bureaucracy would have to be introduced.

Use of the external affairs power of the constitution to enshrine International Labour Organisations (1LO) conventions as statute in Australia (as proposed by Keating/Brereton) will undoubtedly spark off a constitutional debate which will make the current republican Head of State issue look like small change. When push

comes to shove Australians are not likely to take kindly to "sleight of hand" to get around specific constitutional requirements.

If the proposed Brereton legislation to be introduced in the Budget session does actually overcome all the above problems and truly deregulates Australia's labour market the Coalition will give Mr Brereton its complete support. That such will

happen is a pipe dream of the most ambitious kind.

Australia's huge problems with foreign debt, deficit on the current account and unemployment cry out for labour market reform. But, the economy and Australia will have to wait for a Coalition Government to obtain real effective change.

Bore nia 7 June 1993