ACTU Secretary Greg Combet today released a detailed vision for a new system of workplace relations for Australia based on the right of employees to bargain collectively and to have a democratic vote in workplaces.

The new proposal will form the basis for union policy in response to the Federal Government’s new IR laws and the next stage of the union campaign for workers’ rights.

Launching the report and policy vision before an address to the National Press Club today, ACTU Secretary Greg Combet said:

“Unions are about protecting and improving the livelihoods and living standards of working Australians and that is what collective bargaining does.

We want to see basic employee rights and fairness returned to Australia’s industrial relations system.

A central feature of our proposal is to ensure workers have the right to bargain collectively with their employer and that workers can have a collective agreement if that is what a majority of workers in a workplace want.

We want to enshrine democracy in our workplaces and restore the balance that has been taken away by the Howard Government’s IR laws.

John Howard Government’s AWA individual contracts are being used to drive down the wages and conditions of working Australians and they should be abolished.

We think Australia’s work laws should support collective bargaining based on an obligation on unions, workers and employers to bargain in good faith with arbitration used only as a last resort.

The union proposal would no longer allow employers to lock out workers and refuse to offer anything other than individual contracts – as is increasingly happening under the current IR laws.

For example, fourteen workers at Radio Rentals in SA who haven’t had a pay rise in three years decided to take a four hour strike in support of their claim for a collective bargaining agreement only to find their employer has changed the locks and intends to prevent them from working for a whole month unless they sign an individual contract.

Under the new union proposal employers, workers and unions would be obliged to bargain in good faith but if bargaining falters because there are differences over what sort of agreement the employees want, the issue would be decided by a majority vote of the workers.

If a majority of workers want a collective agreement the law should require their employer to respect that choice. If, as John Howard and his big-business backers assert, workers don’t want collective agreements, let the workers themselves have a say in that choice.

In a free and democratic society the views of all organisations including unions, and ultimately the views of citizens themselves, must be properly considered – something that is not happening in Australia,” said Mr Combet.

In developing the report and its policy recommendations, unions carried out six months of extensive research, including a senior union delegation travelling overseas to investigate the IR systems of the UK, Canada, NZ, US and other countries. The proposal will be debated at the forthcoming ACTU Congress in late October before becoming ACTU policy.