Labor open to wage claims across sectors

The Australian, April 13, 2018

Federal Labor has left open legislating to allow workers to strike in support of sector-wide pay claims if Bill Shorten wins the next federal election.

Employers and the Turnbull government attacked the ACTU bid to permit unions and workers to take protected industrial action in support of sector-wide wage claims, warning it would kill jobs and business competitiveness.

But opposition workplace ­relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said “of course” Labor was open to looking at the ACTU proposal, revealed by The Australian yesterday.

“I think it’s worthy of discussion, all of these things,’’ he told Sky News. “I think it’s important to note that we have growing insecurity, low wages growth, high profits and reasonably decent productivity.’’

He said multi-employer bargaining was already possible in some areas of the labour market and he was “happy to examine others”.

Workplace Minister Craig Laundy said Labor had “left the door wide open for the ACTU’s blueprint to destroy millions of jobs and plunge Australia into ­industrial chaos not seen since the 1970s”.

He said the ACTU plan would guarantee a “return to the dark days of rolling stoppages that would paralyse entire industries across the country and put jobs and living standards in peril”.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said the proposals, if accepted, would destroy jobs, the competitiveness of business and workplace flexibility.

“If the ACTU got its way, ­unions would be able to make unreasonable claims and cripple whole industries and supply chains until employers capitulated,” Mr Willox said.

“The ACTU wants us all to trust that militant unions would only very rarely use the new powers that they want, and that their proposals would be good for the economy. What a joke. Australian businesses and workers would become cannon fodder for the ACTU’s social engineering.

“We would see a return to the bad old days of the 1960s and 70s when industrial action was rife and Australia had a reputation internationally as an unreliable supplier of goods and services.”

Under the six-point plan ­designed to lift wages, ACTU ­secretary Sally McManus said the Fair Work Act needed to be amended to give greater power to workers to negotiate across sectors and with host employers.

Ms McManus said unions and workers should be able to take protected industrial action in support of sector-wide wage claims.

“It’s fundamentally fair that people should be able to take ­industrial action during negotiations as a last resort, as they are across the developed world,’’ she said.

She told Sky News yesterday unions “don’t want to see an outbreak of strikes, we want to see an outbreak of pay rises”.

Liberal senator and former employment minister Eric Abetz said the ACTU proposal was dangerous.

“This destructive embrace of socialism would send a shockwave through the economy, send a clear message to employers not to employ and see militant unions running rampant in Australia,” Senator Abetz said.