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Thursday, 1 June 2000
Page: 16833

Ms ROXON (12:21 PM) —I would like to raise a number of issues that have been touched on by other speakers in this debate. The pattern bargaining amendment being proposed by the government would, as many other speakers have said, be laughable if it actually was not a serious proposal. One of the most outrageous things in the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000 is the provision that pattern bargaining through industries, as defined in this bill, is supposed to be prohibited if it is:

... contrary to the objective of encouraging agreements to be genuinely negotiated between the parties ...

Listeners might think that that is a legitimate objective; that you want to encourage negotiation between the parties. What they should know is that the first thing this minister did when he was elected to this parliament was take out of the Industrial Relations Act that was in place at the time provisions that required negotiation in good faith between the parties. Actually the minister is more than happy to say that parties do not have to negotiate in good faith as long as they do that at the enterprise level and not at the industrial level.

So this minister has done what we have highlighted every time he has brought a bill to this parliament. He picks and chooses whose side he wants to be on for particular things. He does not want to have an obligation for individual parties to be required to negotiate in good faith at an enterprise level, but he wants to make sure that unions have some extra obligation if they are going to negotiate at an industry level. He does not even seek to pretend that the employers should also negotiate in good faith. In fact, as we have seen when he has put out the manual on how negotiations should be conducted in the Public Service, he encourages people to negotiate in bad faith all the time. That is how he approaches industrial relations generally: in bad faith, and always with one particular interest in mind, and that is the employer's interests.

We do not stand up here saying that we should only have the unions' interests in mind. We think there should be a balance in industrial relations, but this legislation skews that completely. My first point is to highlight the ridiculousness of stressing the need to negotiate in good faith when this minister has taken out the provisions that were introduced in 1993 to require parties to negotiate in good faith. The amendments that have been moved by the member for Brisbane deal with those issues in some detail. I would like to support them.

The other thing I would like to draw attention to is what is headed in this bill as `giving the commission power to suspend a bargaining period to allow for cooling off'. But in the provisions under that heading there is nothing that deals with the fact that it is for cooling off purposes. All the commission need to decide is that they think it is in the public interest in some way to stop action. But they are then not allowed to play a role in furthering the negotiations in the public interest. There is no requirement for them to then step in and assist either by conciliation or arbitration. There is just a cooling-off period, taking particular account of the employer's view—no-one else's view.

Many people would already know that there is a built-in mechanism in the existing legislation which says that if a party is going to take industrial action it has to give notice of it prior to the taking of that action. Those three working days are designed to be a cooling-off period. They are designed to give notice to the other parties so that there is an opportunity for those last-minute negotiations to avert any industrial action. But that does not seem to be taken account of. This bill just proposes that there should be another opportunity, when the pressure is perhaps on an employer or maybe on employees, for the commission to be able to step in and order that there is a cooling-off period.

I am really being too fair to the minister. I say that there is an opportunity for employers or employees to do this, but actually all of the prohibitive provisions relate to employees. There is no scope for them to try to prevent an employer taking industrial action, as in the situation in the electorate of the member for Chisholm, where people have been locked out of work for five months. There is no provision for cooling off in that situation that would apply against an employer. It seems to be so unbalanced that we cannot believe it is really what is being proposed by this minister, except that he is true to form. It is something that we obviously are going to oppose because there is absolutely no fairness in this system. Australian workers are getting sick of the government being cheerleaders for one side. The government should be providing the framework for there to be fair and decent industrial relations. That is what Labor stands for. It is what this minister should spend a little more time looking at.