Problem with ‘multi-enterprise bargaining’ laid bare in NSW construction battle.
You could call it a conspiracy.
In a stark indication of how badly our industrial rules are broken, several large construction companies have grouped together in an effort to undercut the ETU and its members.
Seven electrical contracting companies – Star, Stowe, Heyday, FIP, NCI, Goldline and Fredon – have been working together to undermine the ETU’s efforts to bargain in good faith in a largely untested process known as “multi-enterprise bargaining”.
This allows the bosses to come together and push for the same goal in a way that workers are not allowed to.
Some bosses sent letters to their workers, misrepresenting ACTU Secretary Sally McManus and incorrectly comparing multi-enterprise bargaining to sector-wide industry bargaining that unions are calling for as part of the Change the Rules campaign.
ETU National Legal Counsel Alana Heffernan said multi-enterprise bargaining was being sold as something akin to industry bargaining.
“When you hear the words ‘multi-enterprise bargaining’, it sounds like the type of industry bargaining that union movement is fighting for in its Change the Rules campaign. It’s not even close,” she said.
“Multi-enterprise bargaining, once it commences, locks workers out from protected industrial action and stops the union from being able to enforce companies’ good faith bargaining obligations.
“The Fair Work Commission can’t even intervene if the companies aren’t negotiating in good faith.
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“But ‘multi-enterprise bargaining’ is a system that gives workers no power or leverage at the negotiating table, which could result in you being locked in to a bad deal for years.”
Heffernan said that with our current broken industrial system the best way for unions to get what’s best for members is through the direct EBAs.
“Until the rules are changed, the union will continue to negotiate single-enterprise agreements, which is the best we have in a broken system, and which the union has used year on year to achieve fair conditions for its members,” she said.
ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks was quick to jump on the misinformation campaign that was spreading through the NSW construction industry like wildfire.
“Do not be fooled by what the company is telling you,” he warned workers.
“The Fair Work system is broken. It does not provide genuine or fair industry bargaining.
“The companies are promoting a system that gives workers no power or leverage at the negotiating table, which could result in you being locked in to a bad deal for years.”
Hicks said the union was seeking to engage the companies one-on-one and called for them to “cease circulating misleading and inappropriate material”.
This was the same message ACTU Secretary Sally McManus shared with ETU NSW members to correct some misinformation and inform them their bosses might be colluding against them.
“It has come to my attention that a number of employers in the electrical contracting industry in NSW may have been misrepresenting my views, those of the ACTU and the Australian union movement, in their attempt to railroad electrical workers into an unfair and un-balanced negotiation process,” she wrote.
In the letter levelled at the large construction firms’ antics, McManus ripped into the laws that allow bosses to abandon good-faith bargaining – a position that, if pursed, even locks out the Fair Work Commission.
“When business owners exploit the loopholes in our current laws to force people into unfair negotiations like those proposed by these five companies, we lose our rights,” the ACTU Secretary wrote.
“These include the right to ensure the employers bargain in good faith and the right to withdraw our labour as a last resort during the bargaining period. Not even the Fair Work Commission can intervene if employers fail to bargain in good faith under our current laws.
“Under these current laws big business has too much power and working people have too little.
“We need to change the rules so working people have the tools we need to sit down and have a fair negotiation to win fair pay rises and secure jobs.”
The union will continue to campaign against unjust laws and fight to give our members the best possible opportunities through the bargaining process.