Friday, February 02, 2007

Labor and industrial relations

You would expect the federal government to exploit any hint of confusion in Labor ranks about what its industrial relations policies would be in government. But Labor can't just pledge a return to the pre-1996 position, because I don't think it was viable in the long term. In government Labor sought to shift the balance from industrial awards to enterprise bargains. The problem is that enterprise bargains require unions to negotiate them. Unions are correct to point out the gap between individual contracts (both formal and informal, although AWAs are pretty informal) and EBAs, but even if AWAs were scrapped how can unions negotiate enterprise bargains for all workers? In the old days union membership was higher but perhaps more importantly the award system levered up wages for those workers who did not engage in collective bargaining, either because they were not union members or because their unions were arbitration dependent, such as the SDA. In 1995 according to AWIRS only 26% of workplaces with over 20 employees had no union members and only 14% of employees worked in these workplaces. But what would it be now? Another survey would be useful but the government has refused to fund one. In 2001 according to the ABS in the non-agricultural private sector 46% of employees were in workplaces with 1-19 employees and 28% in those with 20-99 employees. Of total employing businesses 93% of them have less than 20 employees, a total of 0.54m businesses. How are their employees' wages to be set?



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