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Below is my letter published in today’s Australian, along with a report in today’s AFR indicating that Opposition Shadow Minister for workplace relations, Eric Abetz, is to ask the business community to help reduce the extent of union influence. Attached are the two articles to which I refer in my letter.

I have not referenced the paper presented at the HR Nicholls conference in April 2011 on Shipping and Cabotage by Grace Collier, now a regular columnist on the AFR. That paper is accessible on the HR Nicholls web site.

I could add much to all this but will confine myself to the basic point that  existing legislative arrangements – and importantly their administration – are allowing many unions to operate as quasi-monopolies. This is the case under the regulatory arrangements applying to workplace relations AND to competition. This situation puts union leaders in a position where they can exercise extraordinary powers: hence the resentment shown by the MUA “organiser” to his union member. 

Abetz and his fellow ministers need to put businesses in a position where they are supported by legislation and those who administer it.

Des Moore

Militants Rule
(Letter published in The Australian, 6 May 2013.)
[with editing as indicated]

I wonder if there is any connection between David Murray’s complaint that “you are not allowed to talk about the industrial relations system” (“Naivety rules debt: Murray”, 4-5 May) and the [defence (sic) of ] report about the response of the organiser of the maritime union to a critique he received from one of his members (“MUA boss lets rip at member”, 4-5/5). Leaving aside the many expletives, the organiser boasts that he has been a very successful militant.

Research published by the HR Nicholls Society suggests the organiser is correct. Indeed it appears that numerous MUA officials appointed as Fair Work inspectors are able to impose various restrictive practices on the shipping industry. But one finds it difficult to talk about this because the Fair Work legislation has considerably increased powers to unions and has the unbending support of the Gillard government. [Is Mr Murray brave enough to advocate publicly a change of government unless the present one repeals the legislation?]

Des Moore, Institute for Private Enterprise, South Yarra Vic  

Business leaders must condemn sweetheart IR deals: Abetz
(published in the Australian Financial Review, 6 May 2013.)

James Massola and Mark Skulley

The federal opposition will call on business to stamp out sweetheart deals with unions to buy industrial peace and promise a future Coalition government will pursue and prosecute such arrangements.

Opposition workplace spokesman Eric Abetz will call on the business community on Monday to unite and help stamp out the misuse of union members’ money that has ostensibly been donated for work place health and safety funds.

In a speech to a closed-door Australian Industry Group conference in Canberra, Senator Abetz will condemn the creation of union slush funds linked to the Australian Workers’ Union, the Transport Workers Union and the ­construction union.

“Governments cannot fix all of these problems; it is also up to employers to stand united against these kinds of schemes and industrial blackmail,” he plans to say.

He intends to criticise employers who complain about union industrial tactics and then make “very generous donations to union slush funds”.

Senator Abetz has previously promised to crack down on union fundraising by creating a new body to regulate industrial organisations.

The promise to crack down is also a reference to money paid by construction firm Thiess to an AWU-linked fund in the early 1990s that Prime Minister Julia Gillard helped establish for her then-boyfriend, Bruce Wilson.

“It’s important for employers to resist,” Senator Abetz will say. “It’s the only way that we can clean up workplace relations.

“I think it is deeply regrettable that members of the business community, including employer organisations, have failed to publicly and loudly condemn such sweetheart deals.”

“While Government should and has – rightly – taken steps to try and stop these kinds of activities, employers need to band together and stamp these kinds of activities out as well.”

Opposition workplace policies to be announced this week

He is not expected to reveal details of the opposition’s workplace policies in his speech but an announcement is expected later this week.

On Sunday unions leaders used big May Day marches to attack federal and state Liberal workplace polices.

“In the same week that Tony Abbott began preparing the ground for an assault on penalty rates, we have also seen Barry O’Farrell chip away further at public sector wages,” said Unions NSW secretary Mark Lennon.

The opposition policy is expected to include tougher rules on workplace access by unions’ officials and allow employers to make non-union “greenfields agreements” at large new resource projects.

While employers and unions await the release of these policies, the Fair Work Commission is adjusting its operations to handle a marked shift from collective disputes towards matters relating to individual workers.

The commission’s president, Iain Ross, has said about two-thirds of applications to the workplace tribunal in 1998-99 were about collective matters; down to 40 per cent in 2011-2012.

“Historically, a substantial part of the commission’s work has related to the resolution of collective industrial disputes,” Justice Ross said. “However over the past 15 years we have seen a significant shift in the number of individual applications we hear as against collective disputes.”

“The parties to individual disputes are often unfamiliar with the Commission’s procedures and the relevant legislative provisions. We have an obligation to explain these matters to self-represented parties.”

The commission plans to introduce a pro bono scheme to give legal advice to self-represented parties, plain English information on unfair dismissal case law and streamlined administrative processes. Mr Ross said the latest data showed 81 per cent of unfair dismissal applications were settled at conciliation and about 74 per cent involved payment of money.

About 51 per cent of the payments were below $4,000 and 80Tper cent were below $8,000 but these payments included entitlements such as leave payments.

“The disputes under collective agreements are also starting to have an individual flavour about them,” Justice Ross told The Australian Financial Review. “They are about roster changes, warnings given to an individual.

Many cases included under our collective work don’t involve a union.”

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