Unions have welcomed confirmation from the Federal Government that a robust new system of workplace bargaining will be backed by an industrial umpire with strong powers to protect workers.
“Today’s announcement is another important step towards killing off WorkChoices,” said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.
“The Deputy Prime Minister has today confirmed that workers will have access to arbitration when it is necessary to assist employees such as cleaners, childcare workers and hospitality workers in the important new collective bargaining stream for low-paid workers.
“We are pleased that the Government has accepted our argument that a bargaining system without arbitration would seriously disadvantage these workers.
“This will give real force to the collective bargaining rights Australian workers will have under the Labor Government’s new industrial relations laws, said ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence.
“The empowerment of Fair Work Australia to issue binding determinations when parties persistently refuse to bargain in good faith will also ensure that there is a circuit-breaker for intractable disputes such as those at Telstra and Cochlear.
“This will prevent unscrupulous employers from snubbing their noses at the rights of their employees to collectively bargain.
Mr Lawrence said unions had argued it was essential for workers to have the backing of a strong independent umpire to settle grievances and disagreements that cannot be solved in the workplace.
“Arbitration as a last resort will be a key means of ensuring Labor’s new IR system operates efficiently to deliver productivity gains as well as better wages and that the integrity of the collective bargaining system is upheld.
Mr Lawrence said it was vital that workers had access to Fair Work Australia or the courts to deal with breaches of modern awards and the National Employment Standards.
“This is a major step forward which will provide a strong deterrent against the infringement of workers’ rights and entitlements with employers facing court-imposed injunctions, penalties and a wide range of orders,” he said.
“Unions also believe it is vital that workers on collective agreements have access to arbitration if a dispute over the application of the agreement cannot be resolved at the workplace.
While welcoming today’s announcement that Labor’s new laws will ensure all workers are protected by a comprehensive safety net of modern awards and the National Employment Standards which will be subject to regular reviews to improve pay and conditions, unions remain very concerned that no worker is left worse off by the award modernisation process.
“AWAs will be able to continue beyond their expiry date but will be required to comply with the National Employment Standards and a range of other new rights will help ensure workers are able to take advantage of collective bargaining,” said Mr Lawrence.