Howard tries to wipe out collective bargaining


We underestimated Howard’s extremism. Under WorkChoices, a collective agreement can be wiped out on an employer`s whim.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says, at its heart, WorkChoices is an overt attack on collective bargaining.

‘It will be very difficult for employees to achieve a collective agreement unless an employer voluntarily chooses to cooperate,’ he said.

Far from ‘protecting by law’ the right to a collective agreement, WorkChoices provides three simple means for an employer to get out of one:

  • individual contracts (AWAs) could be offered at any time during the life of a collective agreement. Unions could spend months negotiating a new and lawfully made collective agreement, only for the employer to offer AWAs the very next day – and if an AWA is accepted, the collective agreement no longer applies.
  • once past its nominal expiry date, an employer can terminate an agreement on 90 days’ notice, become award-free or agreement-free, and pay only five minimum standards.
  • the employer could restructure the business, transmit it to a new entity and, in the process, get rid of the employees and the agreement and take on new and cheaper staff.

The ultimate flexibility for employers
As predicted, the new laws abolish all unfair dismissal protection for 3.7 million workers employed in businesses with 100 or less staff. The government has also created an open-ended opportunity for employers to get rid of staff for ‘operational reasons’, even in companies with more than 100 staff.

The Industrial Relations Commission will be reduced to a shell. The government proposes to take away almost all of the Commission’s powers including the power to arbitrate disputes. It will be left as little more than a voluntary mediation service.

No longer will there be an annual national wage case to improve minimum wages, and unions will have no involvement in the Fair Pay Commission that sets them instead of the current process. Minimum wages will be set by economists appointed by the Howard government.

NSWNA General Secretary Brett Holmes says many of the changes will be a slow burn that will take some time to impact on many workers but nurses should be in no doubt of what the new laws mean.

‘John Howard has taken an axe to an industrial relations system that has given workers a say and some fairness in their workplace for over 100 years. He never explained to Australians before the last election that he had this intention. He has failed to make any economic case for these radical changes,’ he said.

Seek and you shall be fined $33,000

Far from ‘protecting them by law’, WorkChoices will make many legitimate union activities illegal.
Union officials, delegates and employees will be fined up to $33,000 simply for asking an employer to include in an enterprise agreement a provision to:

  • remedy an unfair dismissal
  • have mandatory union involvement in resolving a dispute
  • allow employees to attend trade union training
  • commit the employer to future collective bargaining.

Brett Holmes, NSWNA General Secretary

Plenty of nasties for nurses in WorkChoices

There are aspects of John Howard’s new laws that will impact directly on nurses:

  • nurses will no longer be able to pursue work value cases. These cases have been the source of significant pay rises for nurses in recent years.
  • the Reasonable Workloads Clause would go from the Public Hospitals’ award, robbing us of the right to pursue safe and fair workplaces.
  • private hospital nurses and others will no longer be able to seek parity with public hospital nurses due to the outlawing of pattern bargaining.
  • any industrial action by nurses can be declared illegal by the Minister of Workplace Relations, Kevin Andrews, under special ‘essential services’ powers.

$55 million and counting

Part one of the federal government’s IR advertising blitz is over, taxpayers are at least $55 million lighter in the pocket – and the exact figure is still somewhere out there, say advertising experts.

The government’s blunt barrage is being parroted on our TV screens in an equally unsubtle campaign by the Business Council of Australia, which has forked out $6 million advocating for more power for employers.

One advertising expert, John Sintras, head of the Media Federation of Australia, told The Australian that the government’s level of spending on its WorkChoices ads was unprecedented.

‘I’m stuffed if I can think of someone who has launched at that kind of weight; $7 million is what most people spend in a year. Not even Telstra or Coles spend at that rate,’ he said.

Some elements of the government’s media campaign border on farce:

  • Nearly half a million glossy brochures promoting WorkChoices were pulped so the word ‘fairer’ could be put on the cover at a cost to taxpayers of $152,000.
  • 5.8 million revised pamphlets are sitting in a storeroom getting mouldy because no one wants to read them.
  • some people were reportedly paid fees totalling $6000 just to turn up for filming, while three workers at an engineering firm in Melbourne were used in an ad without their consent after being told it was part of an OHS video.

A view – widely expressed by the union movement and the Labor Party that the ads are about peddling Liberal Party propaganda – is also finding resonance in the advertising industry.

‘They haven’t been nervous about trying to spend their way out of trouble when they think they are behind the eight ball,’ a media buyer told The Daily Telegraph.

What $55 million buys if spent responsibly

  • The annual wage of nearly 2200 Australians on the Minimum Wage
  • The annual wage of nearly 1016 Registered Nurses
  • More than 35,000 average monthly mortgage payments and
  • More than 1.8 million bulk-billed GP consultations.