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Government has guaranteed the pay and productivity deal with waterfront unions even if the Industrial Relations Commission again refuses to ratify it

PETER THOMPSON: The waterfront pay and productivity deal hammered out at all-night negotiations between unions, employers and the Government two months ago looks set to go ahead despite last month's refusal by the Industrial Relations Commission to ratify it. The Federal Government, desperate to get things going on the waterfront again and so reinvigorated micro-economic agenda, is seeking to re-list the productivity deal with the IRC for its reconsideration, but if the Commission still refuses to approve the package the Government has guaranteed unions that the pay deal will be honoured. Unions weren't keen to reapply to the IRC but have agreed on the basis of the Government's full-back agreement. Tas Bull, the Federal Secretary of the Waterside Workers' Union, joins us on the line now, and he's speaking to Fran Kelly.

FRAN KELLY: Tas Bull, has the Federal Government guaranteed to you that they will implement the pay and productivity deal negotiated two months ago?

TAS BULL:I think that the document that was made public last night by the President of the ACTU is more concerned to emphasise the Government's commitment - and this is a commitment that has subsequently been also confirmed by employers in the industry - to the arrangements that were agreed on 2 May and the objective is, one way or another, to ensure that that package which all parties considered to be eminently reasonable and which was, in fact, voted on by the employees in the industry and endorsed should become available. It is the only way that we can see any of these parties that the reform processed can proceed and be as effective as it should be.

FRAN KELLY: Well, one way or another that sounds ominous. How will it be done?

TAS BULL: Well, I think that the objective, initially anyway, will be to endeavour to put a perhaps more comprehensive case to the Commission and hopefully convince the Commission that the course that we're on is one that it should endorse, and if that can be done then clearly that's the simplest and most satisfactory way for this matter to proceed.

FRAN KELLY: But, they've refused it once. Isn't it likely that they'll refuse it again, and if so, then what?

TAS BULL: It wasn't refused outright. There were certain aspects okayed by the Commission but others that were modified and in respect of the new classification scale the modifications the Commission were making actually are unworkable. And it's that area in particular that the parties want to go back to the Commission on.

FRAN KELLY: So you have some hope that the Commission still may ratify the package?

TAS BULL: Oh well, hope springs eternal. Yes, of course I have some hope and I think that on all logic there's good reason to be hopeful.

FRAN KELLY: If they don't though, if the Commission refuses to ratify it yet again, then what?

TAS BULL: Well, there's always been other mechanisms available. For example, there is nothing at the end of the day to prevent the employers reaching agreement on the terms as has happened in a number of other industries, the terms of that agreement without the Commission's endorsement and I don't know that would greatly trouble the Commission either for that matter. The Commission feels obviously that it's operating within some parameters. The fact that they are parameters that we don't like or agree with, I suppose, is a matter for each side to contemplate. But there's nothing to prevent the employers reaching agreement with us and, of course, there is still the availability for the Government to establish in this industry.

FRAN KELLY:Okay. Tas Bull, thank you very much for joining us.

PETER THOMPSON: Tas Bull of the Waterside Workers' Federation, with Fran Kelly.