Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 17562

Ms KING (7:40 PM) —Tonight in my electorate, 600 workers remain locked out of their place of employment. On Monday night, the FMP Group, formerly known as Bendix Mintex, locked its work force out for a month over stalled enterprise bargaining negotiations. For the workers and their families, the uncertainty caused by the lockout and the subsequent threat by FMP to close the Ballarat plant if work bans are not lifted and negotiations recommenced has been devastating. The economic loss that is being experienced by the company, and subsequently to the local economy, is also devastating for our local community. The families in my electorate cannot afford for this dispute to be prolonged. They cannot afford to go without wages as the school holidays start, rent and mortgage payments fall due, loan repayments fall short, or they get sick and need to access a doctor. I have to ask myself how things could have come to this: 600 workers locked out of their place of employment days before the school holidays.

The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations likes to come into this place and rail against union strikes, but he has been remarkably silent on the issue of lockouts. It would be good to see some consistency, finally, from the minister on this issue. The action by the company is regrettable. Disputes get solved only through negotiation, not conflict. I do not know of many disputes that have been resolved by a company locking out its work force. The only way to resolve this dispute is for both parties to get back to the negotiating table as a matter of urgency. This seems to be the new world of industrial relations under the minister's Workplace Relations Act. The legislation is unworkable and has set up an adversarial system at the same time as it has removed the powers of the industrial relations umpire to intervene.

Two weeks ago, the Labor Party introduced legislation to restore the powers of Australia's industrial umpire—the Australian Industrial Relations Commission—to require parties to bargain in good faith in the workplace. These powers would require employees and employers to adopt basic ground rules for bargaining, such as face-to-face meetings; agreed negotiating procedures, subject to appropriate undertakings as to confidentiality; the disclosure of relevant information, such as executive pay rises; considering and responding to proposals; and adhering to commitments given in negotiations.

The commission's good faith bargaining powers were stripped away by the Howard government in 1996, leading to divisive and prolonged disputes like the one that is unfolding in my electorate. At the heart of the dispute is the issue of the protection of entitlements. We have already seen in my electorate what can happen when a company shuts up shop and the entitlements of its workforce are not protected. The John Valves workers were left without their full entitlements and have had to rely on the limited GEERS scheme to get a fraction of what they were owed. The government has steadfastly refused to introduce Labor's proposal to protect employee entitlements. It has stalled on doing what it said it was going to do prior to the last election—legislate to put employee entitlements before other creditors. I do not blame the unions for wanting to try and protect employee entitlements. We have seen in my electorate what happens when they are not protected. Labor's scheme does exactly this, but the government refuses to even debate it in this place.

Unlike the Howard government, Labor is committed to helping resolve workplace disputes by restoring the powers of Australia's independent industrial umpire, the Industrial Relations Commission. The minister must finally acknowledge that the government was wrong to reduce the powers of the independent umpire to resolve industrial disputes—abandoning parties to the destructive weapons of the strike and the lockout.

Bendix Mintex—now FMP Group—has a proud history in our town. It has a proud history of contributing in our town in a way only a company that employs 600 workers in a small community can. It is imperative that FMP Group and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union get back to the negotiating table. It is urgent that the company opens the gates and allows the workers back to work whilst the negotiations continue. It is essential that they sit down not in four weeks time, as the company has said it will do only if bans are lifted, but in the coming days to work out the disagreements they have so that 600 workers can get back to work.

It is incredibly important to the workers of FMP that this dispute gets resolved quickly. They represent a large proportion of the manufacturing sector in my electorate, and I encourage all parties to the dispute to keep cool heads at a time when hard heads could prevail. I certainly hope that the FMP Group and the AMWU can get back to negotiations quickly. Lockouts do not resolve anything. Negotiation is what is going to resolve this dispute, not locking 600 workers out just days before the school holidays.