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Monday, 13 December 1993
Page: 4432

Senator CHAPMAN (6.21 p.m.) —Those remarks of Senator Sherry's cannot pass without comment. He objects to this opposition amendment on the grounds that it denies the minority the right to be heard if, in a secret ballot of employees of a particular enterprise, a majority agree to the particular enterprise flexibility agreement concerned. I direct his attention to clause 170NB(3) which says:

This section does not affect any other right of an organisation of employees, or of any other person or body, to intervene or be heard, or to apply to intervene or be heard, on an application to the Commission.

In other words, those employees can be heard at their own request. If they are not satisfied with the result of a secret ballot, they can apply to the commission to have their point of view put. Or, indeed, a trade union can apply to the commission to have its point of view put or, if you like, the employees can ask a trade union, which in turn can ask to be heard on their behalf. So nothing in the amendment that is being put by the opposition precludes the right of that minority of employees to be heard.

  What this amendment seeks to achieve is to remove the automatic right of a particular trade union to be heard by the Industrial Relations Commission without any need to apply to the commission and put up argument as to why it ought to be heard. That is what we are about—removing this automatic right of a particular trade union which is involved with the award to which an enterprise flexibility agreement might apply to be heard without having to put an argument to the commission as to why it should be heard. It does not in any way remove the capacity for a minority of employees or indeed for a particular trade union to be heard if they have valid and good reasons to put to the commission as to why they should be heard. So that disposes of the argument put by Senator Sherry.

  I wanted to deal with the points raised by Senator Harradine. As I interpreted Senator Harradine's remarks in relation to the opposition amendment—and I am sure Senator Harradine will correct me if I am wrong—and putting them in a nutshell, they were to the effect that this opposition amendment was returning us to the bad old days where the shop committees made decisions. In his terms, shop committees were dominated then by communists and, as a result of that, enormous damage was done to businesses and to the economy.

  I believe that there are two fallacies inherent in what Senator Harradine has said. Firstly, we are talking here about a secret ballot of all employees at that enterprise, not a self-appointed or even elected group, but a small group of employees, a shop committee, making the decision but with every employee having the right to be involved in that secret ballot and to participate in that decision. More importantly, we are talking here about enterprises where there are no union members. So again we are not talking about a union shop committee; we are talking about employees who do not have any association or involvement with a union.

  Secondly, in terms of the capacity of such an approach to inflict damage on enterprises more broadly and on the economy, therefore, what Senator Harradine is talking about is that from the decision taken with regard to this enterprise flexibility agreement there will be flow-ons to other enterprises. Other employees will get, in effect, the same deal. He is talking about the concept of comparative wage justice, that a deal and concessions and benefits won at a particular enterprise will flow on throughout the economy to other businesses, to other employees, so that everyone, in effect, gets the same benefits. That is the very antithesis of enterprise flexibility agreements.

  I argued earlier in this debate that this legislation was a charade and a facade, that it was not going to get genuine enterprise agreements which were individual and appropriate to particular enterprises because the union movement will never give up the concept of comparative wage justice. So whatever benefits might be achieved at one enterprise will be sought in other enterprises. But if one genuinely believes that this legislation is about what the government claims, that it is going to get greater flexibility in the workplace, then there is no place for comparative wage justice in that concept. Again, the point made by Senator Harradine is, therefore, a fallacy. So on those grounds this amendment ought to be supported and passed by the Senate.