Thursday, November 10, 2005

New Australian Industrial Relations Laws

New Industrial relations laws are about to be introduced. The government's side of the argument is here.

There was no such thing as a union for military people while I was in uniform. However, on starting another job not long after leaving the service, I discovered the new workplace was a closed shop - no union card, no start. That was in the days when aggressive unions held too much sway.

That was back in 1983, and I moved to a staff position soon thereafter. I haven't been in a union for 20 years or so, I'm considered 'engineering staff'. I'm no stranger to employment agreements, employment contracts, and the art of dealing with the human resources department(s).

Contract law assumes the parties bargain from a position of equal power. A young used car buyer dealing with a seasoned salesman is not on an equal footing with his or her 'adversary'. Granted they can walk away from the sale, but what of someone negotiating a work agrreement in an adverse economic climate - particularly if they are low skilled? I argue in most cases that an uneven bargaining position exists, at the unskilled end of the labour market particularly, and less so the more saleable skills you possess.

An option for some sort of advocate, either a union official, lawyer who specialises in the area, or even just a friend, seems to me to be a fair way to tread the path in the initial stage of a workplace agreement, and later as well, if the relationship between employer and employee should hit some troubled grounds.

The workchoice literature I've seeen unfortunately is short on much detail, so I remain to be convinced that the changes are a great leap forward. The Australian economy seems to be doing quite well without such sweeping changes as those tabled.

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