ACTU Congress to urge work law changes

ACTU formulates demands

By Ewan Hannan

Unions will seek to have penalties for taking industrial action abolished, encourage the prosecution of employers, and downgrade enterprise bargaining under a proposed rewriting of Labor’s workplace laws.

The ACTU Congress in Brisbane next week will consider a new workplace policy that calls on a second-term Rudd Government to allow pattern and industry-wide bargaining by unions.

Acknowledging Labor’s Fair Work bill is a "substantial, albeit imperfect, translation” into legislation of the 2006 congress policy, unions will be urged to run a series of cases to test the parameters of the new bargaining rules.

The policy sets out the act’s provisions that do not "comply with the ACTU’s expectations” and fail to meet International Labour Organisation standards.

It seeks the removal of "legal and other obstacles to co-ordinated bargaining at an industry level”, while repealing sections that give primacy to enterprise level collective agreements.

It seeks the removal on restrictions and penalties for taking industrial action, including the "prohibition of industrial action in support of pattern bargaining”.

Unions also want to remove Julia Gillard’s powers to end protected legal action, and stop Fair Work Australia from being able to suspend industrial action deemed to be harming a third party.

Unions will be told to enforce the new laws, seeking prosecution of employers for "deliberately misleading employees about their rights”; sham contracting; and any victimising of union delegates.

"The priority for unions over the coming three years is to grow unions, protect jobs, and advance workers’ interests,” the policy says.

"The new act presents a unique opportunity for unions to ensure the interpretation of the laws – in workplaces and by tribunals and courts – gives effect to the legislated opportunities to improving working arrangements, organise workplaces and bargain collectively.”

The congress will endorse renewed calls by unions for the Government to abolish the building industry watchdog and ensure contract employees have better rights through amendments to the Independent Contractors Act.

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence told The Australian last week that the congress would set the union movement’s agenda before it was pressed at the subsequent ALP national conference in July-August.

Victorian Trades Hall Council secretary Brian Boyd said recently the state’s unions had endorsed a strategy to "use congress to push hard to get a second-term agenda out of the Government”.

Mr Boyd warned Labor should not expect a repeat of the successful Your Rights At Work campaign unless the Government was prepared to make substantial promises.

According to the congress platform, obtained by The Australian, unions will be asked to support the continuation of the Your Rights at Work campaign for the next three years to ensure "fair and progressive industrial laws” are put in place.

It says the involvement of union members in federal and state elections is "relevant to our strategic objectives”.

Unions would commit resources to political and community campaigning and "where affiliated to the Australian Labor Party, advance the common set of priority objectives in ALP forums”.

The Australian

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