But Burke and Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Sally McManus disputed business predictions of more strikes, with Burke claiming “we have a low strike rate. Our strikes will continue to be low.”
The CFMEU’s construction division has been excluded from multi-employer negotiations due to a history of breaches of the law.
Introducing the Safe Work, Better Pay Bill on Thursday, Mr Burke said the government was prepared to review multi-employer agreements to ensure they are “fair, democratic and workable and happen at enterprise level”.
In provisions aimed at stopping a repeat of Sydney train strikes, the minister argued that mandatory pre-strike conciliation, in which employers and workers must first sit down together to resolve the dispute, would help seal deals.
“A forced conciliation will have a different impact if you potentially get arbitration at the end. You know, when you go into a meeting and they ask you, “Can you agree with everyone, and if you don’t, no consequences,” you’re less likely to get agreement. If you have arbitration [by the Fair Work Commission] after all, it doesn’t mean you end up making decisions by committee; it usually means the parties resolve issues more quickly,” he previously told ABC radio.
McManus said: “We don’t want to see more strikes, we want to see more pay rises.”
She said the reforms would encourage firms to strike deals rather than face binding commission arbitration.
“It will mean that more agreements will be reached and hopefully there will be agreements and more effective negotiations. We note that even getting secure access is extremely difficult [strike] action, extremely difficult,” she said.
In his Budget response speech, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said the new laws would be “a throwback to the 1980s”.
“Labour’s changes will introduce ‘one size fits all’ conditions across the industry, empowering unions,” he said.
University of Adelaide industrial relations expert Professor Andrew Stewart said he was surprised to see complex multi-employer bargaining provisions introduced so quickly.
“There are many questions that can be raised about the multi-employer bargaining provisions of the bill, but one thing we can say with absolute certainty is that, even if these provisions are introduced, they will not lead to widespread mass protest. ” he said.
Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tanya Constable said industry-wide bargaining allowed unions, with the approval of the Fair Work Commission, to force collective bargaining over “any number of businesses that meet a broad common interest test” that could bind employers based on location or type of business. .
“Negotiations are no longer voluntary and allow for industrial action on multilateral agreements,” Constable said, comparing the bill to the Coalition’s controversial industrial relations reforms.
“It risks becoming Labor’s choice. It is too hasty. Unions were promised to repay the unions for their support.’
The bill also changes the “general betterment test,” a statutory threshold that ensures workers don’t back out of negotiations for a pay raise.
As the government has already noted, the bill abolishes the Australian Construction Commission, makes job security and gender pay equality explicit objectives of the Fair Work Act, prohibits sexual harassment and pay secrecy in the workplace, and enshrines the right to request flexible working hours by contacting the commission.
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