The ACTU, formed in 1927, is the peak body for Australian unions and is the only national union confederation in Australia. For more than 90 years, the ACTU has played the leading role in advocating for the rights and conditions of working people and their families. The ACTU is made up of 39 affiliated unions and trades and labour councils, and we represent almost 2 million working people across all industries. As the peak body for working people, we welcome the opportunity to provide a response to the Government’s discussion paper.

We must however note our surprise at the Government’s sudden interest in cooperative and collaborative relations between employers and employees, particularly given the Government’s attitude towards the employees over which they have direct authority – Australian Public Service workers. If this paper represents a signal of a change in government behaviour away from privatisation and outsourcing, restrictive bargaining rules, pay caps & hiring freezes, and policies to lock workers out of bargaining, then it is most welcome. If not, it seems odd for Government to request that private sector employers embrace a level of cooperation that the Government itself has thus far proven incapable of providing.

This submission will outline how the Australian union movement believes the current industrial relations (IR) system is failing workers and the impact that has on workplace cooperation. It is failing workers because it cannot deliver the basic objectives of an IR system, i.e. to provide for a countervailing legal framework that protects the interests of workers in an otherwise fundamentally uneven power relationship with employers. Additionally, the current system’s failings create needless conflict between employers and employees and has resulted in a series of conditions within the system that serve to both reduce opportunities for collaboration and to actively deter cooperation between employers and employees. 

The outcome of this process must be the redesign of a system which both delivers on the fundamental purpose of the IR system and which also maximises the opportunities for employers and employees to collaborate on an even playing field. To not do so would be to squander yet another opportunity to address the growing power imbalance between workers and employers and to further entrench the insecure work, inequality and wage growth crises in which we find ourselves.