The ACTU is the peak trade union body and only national confederation representing working people and their unions in Australia. It consists of affiliated unions and State and regional trades and labour councils, collectively representing more than 1.5 million union members engaged across a broad spectrum of industries and occupations in the public and private sector. For more than 90 years, the ACTU has played the leading role in advocating in the Fair Work Commission, and its statutory predecessors, for the improvement of employment conditions of employees. It has consulted with governments in the development of almost every legislative measure concerning employment conditions and trade union regulation over that period.
We and our affiliates are vehemently opposed to the introduction of “life of project” greenfield agreements, as referred to in the discussion paper to which we respond (hereafter, ‘Discussion Paper 2’). The proposal is not a new one, being a variation on that last ventilated during the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into the Workplace Relations Framework in 2014-15 (and thereafter, not proceeded with). It is tantamount to creating something akin to special economic zones that deny working people fundamental labour rights to collective bargaining for the benefit of employers in the extractive industry and any other industries which might fit the nebulous description adopted in Discussion Paper 2 of “major infrastructure, resources and energy projects”. Given the radical nature of the proposal, we derived some comfort from the recent declaration in Parliament by the Attorney General that the proposal would not be adopted in the absence of consensus:
….the Morrison government has undertaken to clearly identify ways in which we can increase productivity and make the IR system more efficient and fairer for both employers and employees, the idea being that we need to find ways, where there is a consensus that can be built around policy changes, that would put upward pressure on wages and make businesses stronger and help them to employ more people.
…. if it is the case, as we have suggested in a recent discussion paper, we can find consensus about how to have enterprise agreements for the life of those projects.
Our clear and unambiguous statement, as the peak council representing the trade unions who are necessary parties to greenfields agreements, is that we do not support the proposal. As discussed herein, the proposal will interfere with the fundamental rights of workers to collectively bargain, in order to benefit profitable industries with a promise to remove a mythical barrier to investment, in the absence of any cogent evidence that those industries are facing any significant issue with the existing provisions relating to greenfield agreements. It should follow that the proposal is abandoned.