Debate on IR policy – depaNews August 2007

IR policy...the simple explanatory booklet cartoon – August 2007

New depths plumbed in unsophisticated debate on industrial relations policy

As the election gets closer, debate on industrial relations policy taps new depths. How else do you explain the Government’s fascination with the hoary old concept of "union bosses"? Sydney Morning Herald cartoonist Moir got it right in the cartoon that leads this Bulletin.

Whether the Government is tapping into recent market research or polling in the community showing an increasing mistrust and anxiety about trade unions and those elected to lead them, or whether this is simply their politics and hatred showing, there is a simple truism discovered when market researchers ask people about unions. And it is this:

While union members might be sceptical about the way other unions behave, and the way officials of other unions might be perceived, they never really feel like that about their own union. People have a different connection with their union to other peoples’ unions. That's why you find a specific attachment that is not reflected as a general view to all unions. It's also hard to look at the charming, benign and pleasant members of depa’s Committee of Management in the context of the Howard Government’s demonising of thuggish and boorish union bosses. Cripes, everyone’s elected and elected officials reflect the membership - just like in other unions.

And while union coverage has been declining over the last decade or so (although there has been a resurgence accompanying the anxiety about Workchoices) in industries like local government and the public sector, there has been no decline.

We make no apologies for supporting a system that allows us to negotiate a new Local Government (State) Award every few years or so. We did that with the other unions in the industry in negotiation with the employers represented by the Local Government Association and Shires Association. The system that allowed us to do that also allowed us to manage industrial disputes and minimise industrial action. It's hard to find anything wrong with that and it has worked like that for more than a hundred years.

In February we said in our Bulletin to members:

Living with WorkChoices: full steam into the fog. Nothing clear about councils and WorkChoices.

The High Court didn't clarify whether councils are constitutional corporations. That is an argument yet to be had in some court somewhere else. In the meantime, some councils have been happy to sign Referral Agreements with the local government unions and keep the management of industrial disputes and unfair dismissal applications operating in the New South Wales Industrial Relations system. Others have hedged their bets, asserting that they are a constitutional Corporation and therefore all will start "taking advantage" of the (nasty) options available in the Federal Legislation.

90 councils have already signed Referral Agreements. This removes the question of whether they are constitutional corporations or not because, regardless of this issue, they have agreed to continue with the well-managed arrangements of the past and have their industrial relations managed in the State system.

In case there is any doubt, and in case your council has not yet signed a Referral Agreement, we think everyone should.

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