Sally McManus, the Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, has called for a return to industry-level bargaining to help unions win pay rises and organise workers in industries such as childcare. She outlined the key demand of the Change the Rules campaign: “equal rights” for all workers including casuals, labour hire and gig economy workers.
McManus said the enterprise bargaining system is “so restrictive, excessively regulated and is smothering wage growth”.
The enterprise bargaining system in place since 1993 requires unions to bargain workplace by workplace for pay deals. Even Labor’s Fair Work Act does not allow protected industrial action for uniform conditions across an industry. McManus said workers needed to be able to bargain with the “real decision-makers” who set wages, including companies at the top of supply chains and governments who control funding for community services.
Workers needed “much more freedom to bargain”, she said, including a system that allows negotiation “across a sector or industry should they choose to do so”.
She argued in some industries, such as childcare, it was not practical to bargain for separate pay deals. “The only way for those workers to have the power they need is to band together beyond a small childcare centre.”
McManus also said bargaining should occur “without restrictions” such as bans on clauses that protect jobs by preventing contracting-out or requiring companies to hire apprentices.
She said the union movement was independent and would “campaign for what we think is right and do so regardless of who’s in government”. Asked if unions should consider breaking industrial laws to win pay rises, McManus did not rule it out. She said the ACTU would focus on changing the law but she believed that “working people have a right to withdraw their labour as a last resort”.
McManus suggested bargaining changes would help unions recruit members, blaming declining density on rules governing their access to workplaces and employers who sought to exclude unions or refuse to strike union collective agreements. McManus called for gig economy and labour hire workers to get the same minimum conditions as employees, including access to unfair dismissal and collective bargaining, and a right for casuals to convert to permanent employment.