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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4817

Senator HARRIS (11:10 AM) —In rising to commence my contribution to the Workplace Relations Amendment (Genuine Bargaining) Bill 2002, I would like to place on record that One Nation will be supporting the Labor amendments for the following reasons. The purpose of the bill is to amend the Workplace Relations Act 1996—the principal act—to give effect, in modified form, to two long-standing government policy proposals. The first would place even greater emphasis on enterprise bargaining by making it harder to obtain access to protected bargaining under the act. The major target of the proposed legislation is actually de facto or covert forms of industry-wide bargaining, sometimes referred to as pattern bargaining.

The bill also seeks to confer on the Australian Industrial Relations Commission new powers to suspend a bargaining period for a specified time. The suspension or termination of the bargaining period by the commission removes the statutory protection available to persons engaged in industrial action. The ACTU clearly says:

· There are no industrial circumstances to justify the Bill.

· Common claims and similar outcomes are a normal component of bargaining, engaged in by employers as well as unions.

· The Bill would have the effect of prohibiting common claims.

· The Bill would create a presumption which would operate to fetter the Commission's discretion.

· The ability to bargain on a multi-employer or industry-wide level is available in every developed nation internationally and is integral to the ILO's core labour standards.

· Industry-wide bargaining is not a barrier to employment or productivity.

The power already exists in the Workplace Relations Act to suspend a bargaining period.

So where does the desire of the government come from to bring this legislation forward? It is very clearly set out in the public information notice of the International Monetary Fund. In the conclusion of that notice, under the heading `Article IV Consultation with Australia', they made the following comments:

In addition to fiscal reform, Australia has been pursuing a range of other microeconomic reforms, with important recent achievements in several key areas. These reforms cover: the labor market; the financial sector; competition policy; trade policy; and the corporate law code. An important measure is the passage, in late 1996, of the Workplace Relations Act (WRA) that has encouraged wage bargaining at the enterprise level. With respect to the financial sector, a package of pathbreaking reforms, which puts Australia at the forefront of international practice, is in the process of being adopted. A major reform proposal for the tax system, which would address many of the shortcomings in the current system, was announced in mid-August, 1998.

So it is very clear that the government is responding to requests from the International Monetary Fund to curtail both the ability and the power of the unions and the individual members, and it clearly indicates to the government that it should move away from industrially based agreements to enterprise bargaining. The IMF goes on to say:

Directors welcome the government's efforts at labour market and social welfare reform. Further reforms will be necessary however to reduce the high level of structural unemployment. In the labour market, reform should focus on strengthening enterprise bargaining further and reducing the role of awards and third parties in wage determination.

You cannot have it explained any clearer than that. This is a clear interference by the International Monetary Fund in Australian policies and the direction we are taking.

A review by Katherine Murphy in the Australian Financial Review in February 1999 states:

The International Monetary Fund has urged the Australian government to cut welfare benefits and attack trade union power to address Australia's persistently high unemployment rate.

She goes on further to say:

While the IMF acknowledges the Howard government's efforts to deregulate the labour market and tighten the availability of social welfare benefits, it suggests the reforms were incremental in scope and might need tougher measures.

She goes on to say:

It suggests that a more fundamental break from the past industrial relations and social welfare system may be desired to accelerate reduction in structural unemployment and improve Australia's growth prospects.

That is the Australian Financial Review's overview of the IMF's report to Australia. Finally, in May 1998, the Managing Director of the IMF, Michael Camdessus said:

As regards labour market reform, the 1996 industrial relations legislation was a step in the right direction. However, in the modern globalised economy wage rates and labour market practices cannot be insulated from market conditions. While inevitably sensitive and politically difficult, further reforms should concentrate on strengthening bargaining at the enterprise level and reducing the central control of both the Industrial Relations Commission and the complex system of awards. In the same vein, I am sure that Australia will continue to use its influence to promote economic reform throughout the region and thereby help its neighbours re-establish the basis for sustained high-quality growth.

You cannot get a more reputable quotation than that from the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, advising that the Australian government should accept and implement the policies that this bill brings in.

If this bill is passed in its present form, the TWU will not be able to approve the eight major enterprise bargaining agreements with a three per cent increase for all of those who would derive that benefit across the industries. Australians, both employers and employees, do need the ability to have the freedom of consistency. If enterprise bargaining is going to be made on a one-by-one basis— and we will take the transport industry as an example—where the major transport companies in Australia are able to sit down individually and negotiate enterprise bargaining, the sheer size and economic ability of those companies and their ability to hold out and to reduce the benefits to their workers could ultimately see those enterprise bargaining agreements returning far less to the workers. Then, conversely, throughout the rest of the industry, because the proprietors of the smaller transport industries do not have the same muscle or the same economic basis, they may well not be able to negotiate the same rates of pay. Therefore we would have within the industry a disparity between drivers driving transport vehicles doing exactly the same work but receiving different rates of pay. I do not believe that is acceptable. Where we have a group of people across an industry performing a relatively similar duty then it is most un-Australian to accept some of those working at one rate of pay and others receiving a higher rate of pay.

That is the case when you look at it purely from the aspect of the workers. But let us then have a look at the effect that it has on the bottom line of the companies. It gives a huge economic benefit to the larger companies if the cost of their drivers is substantially less for them than for their smaller competitors. So what happens then? Because of the sheer economics and the tightness of profit within the transport industry, in all probability we will see less competition. As a result, flowing right through from this bill, we could see another advantage to the larger companies and a disadvantage to the smaller companies. Therefore it is absolutely imperative that union and non-union members can expect to have freedom to have consistency across industries. This legislation in its present form would ban that.

Let us consider Qantas as another example. At the moment, Qantas negotiates collectively and simultaneously with up to 10 unions. I believe that this legislation will ban that, so that Qantas will have to negotiate with each and every union separately. The next example that I put before the chamber is the government itself. What is the government doing in relation to its negotiations with public servants? Does it say that it will sit down with each and every individual union and negotiate in good faith? No, it does not. The government expects all negotiations, across all of the unions, to be bargained collectively and at the same time. We have a situation where the government is saying, `Don't do as we do; do as we say.' It will have one set of rules for the government and will legislate totally the opposite for all private enterprise. One Nation supports the Labor amendments.