Employer attacks on bargaining and flatlining wages no coincidence

1 October, 2018

In the September quarter last year, 642 collective agreements were approved by the Fair Work Commission – the lowest number since 1995.

The data follows news that more than 850 collective agreements have been terminated in the past three years, forcing 120,000 workers onto safety-net Award conditions.

Meanwhile, wage growth for Australian workers remains at record lows. Quarterly wage growth has been stuck in the low band of 0.4-0.6 per cent for the past 13 quarters, while cost of living continues to rise.

IEUA-QNT Branch Secretary Terry Burke said it is clear that a broken collective bargaining system with laws that allow employers to terminate agreements far too easily has contributed to declining wages and conditions.

“It is disgraceful to see a number of employing authorities in the non-government sector embarking on the private industry bandwagon of attempting to strip back collective agreements to the modern national award standards with only the slightest concession being the payment of the community standard wage rate,” Mr Burke said.

Mr Burke said many employers were now treating collective bargaining with a sense of indifference.

“These employing authorities, it would seem, believe it is a task to be suffered – rather than an opportunity to engage with their employees and demonstrate a respect for the work that they are doing by remunerating and providing conditions appropriately.

Where employees’ collective voice is strong enough, it can overcome employer obstinacy and unfair industrial laws.

“No more clearly was that demonstrated than in the campaign in Catholic schools during 2015-2016 to reach comparable rates of pay for teachers with interstate employing authorities,” Mr Burke said.

“Queensland teachers had suffered a wage discount for the better part of a decade and in the absence of the resolve of members in Catholic schools, Queensland teachers, not only in the non-government sector but the government sector as well, would have continued to suffer that significant wage discount.

Mr Burke said it was time for our industrial rules to change.

“Clearly unions can make a difference; however, what is becoming increasingly evident is that the industrial legislation and the rules under which unions operate are broken.

“Employers are also using legislation as a weapon against workers’ collective conditions, with threats to withdraw from existing collective agreements.

“We are a poorer country both in terms of our economic capacity and our social cohesion because of the lack of a meaningful commitment to collective bargaining and collective outcomes.”

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