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Wednesday, 9 October 1996
Page: 3833

Senator MURRAY(7.06 p.m.) —I rise to speak to the Enterprise Bargaining in Australia 1995 annual report, which was prepared by the Department of Industrial Relations. This excellent report provides an important snapshot of how enterprise bargaining is developing in Australia. The comprehensiveness of this report, building on the base of the first one in 1994, is a credit to the researchers and ensures the report makes a valuable and timely contribution to the industrial relations debate.

The Department of Industrial Relations is required to produce this report annually because of section 170RC of the Industrial Relations Act. This section was the result of a successful Democrat amendment to the Brereton reform bill in 1993. It requires an annual report on the implementation of enterprise bargaining and its impacts on the employment conditions of employees, particularly women, part-time workers and migrants. This is the second report prepared by DIR and is based on a substantially bigger database than the first report.

The findings of the report provide both good news and bad news. The good news is that enterprise bargaining is spreading and that workers and managers are basically happy with it. The bad news is that the benefits of enterprise bargaining are not evenly spread and that women workers and workers in non-unionised workplaces are losing out. I am quite concerned that the gap between male and female hourly earnings widened by 1.4 per cent in 1995, that women reported a larger increase in hours worked than did men, and that this trend was more evident in state employment agreements than in federal certified agreements. This highlights the need for detailed vetting of enterprise agreements to ensure that workers in a disadvantaged bargaining position—such as women—are not disadvantaged.

The fact that unionised workplaces were far more likely than non-unionised workplaces to have enterprise agreements and that over 70 per cent of managers and 63 per cent of employees reported satisfaction with federal enterprise agreements shows that union involvement does not mean bargaining is stymied. It also shows that non-unionists are failing to achieve the benefits of enterprise bargaining and highlights the need for the Workplace Relations and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 1996 to encourage the effective operation of unions and for enterprise bargaining to be promoted in the non-unionised workplace by both unions and the Employment Advocate.

Overall, the report shows that enterprise bargaining is gaining increasing acceptance in Australia and that federal certified agreements are a more productive, fair and satisfactory means of achieving agreements than state agreements such as those in Victoria and Western Australia. Indeed, the level of industrial disputation was higher under state employment agreements, where unions were often excluded, than under federal employment agreements where they were included.

The report shows that far too many employers were still requiring employees to work harder rather than smarter and that this was affecting family life. There is a direct correlation between an increase in work intensity and stress and a decline in the ability to balance work and family issues. Closer attention needs to be paid to work and family issues in industrial relations to ensure that productivity is not at the expense of family life. The Democrats believe this report high lights the value of regular reporting on major reform issues and provides some strong messages which the government should take into account in modifying its workplace relations bill.

I believe that this legislative approach of regular reporting on major reform initiatives should be adopted in other areas where governments make huge and grandiose claims of massive benefits to test whether the benefits ever turn up or whether governments need to keep a watching brief on critical issues such as this. I note in passing that the workplace relations bill proposes to repeal section 170RC and to replace this very detailed and specific report with a more generalised report every three years. This is an approach the Democrats have serious concerns with. Governments must be prepared to have their reforms tested rigorously; this is an important part of the accountability process. I commend this report to the Senate.