The Albanian government wants to continue the “multi-employer” negotiations this year.
The idea took some people by surprise when it was announced at last week’s jobs summit.
National Labor Policy Platform from 2021 made specific references to the idea, with the party pledging to improve access to collective bargaining if it wins this year’s election, but the party did not make much of the idea during the election campaign.
So why do Labor think we need it? What is wrong with the existing system?
Tony Burke, the Minister for Workplace Relations, will begin consultations on multi-employer bargaining this week, with the intention of introducing a bill in Parliament this year.
But big business lobbies are worried.
They fear this could be a Trojan horse for the return of industry-wide bargaining and widespread industrial action, as it will help workers coordinate strikes at different companies in an attempt to win better wages and terms.
So, it’s worth remembering how things look right now.
If you view labor disputes as an indicator of worker power and their ability to secure decent wage increases through rising productivity, take a look at the chart below.
Labor disputes have been on life support for decades.
Then lately Material published by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) which mentions multi-employer bargaining, the union focuses on the idea care sector – child care, elderly care, cleaning and other industries.
He says these are feminized industries, in which the majority of workers are women, where wages are suppressed in part because the predominantly female workforce lacks access to decent bargaining.
“Multi-employer bargaining would give millions of workers, most of them women, meaningful access to bargaining for the first time,” ACTU President Michele O’Neil said last week.
And there’s another chart worth keeping in mind.
A significant change has taken place in the composition of union membership over the past ten years.
Since 2012, employed women are more likely to be unionized than men.
That’s why politicians who are still trying to spread fear about “union thugs” seem increasingly out of touch.
The ACTU says the work done by employees in the care sector is chronically undervalued and that conditions in the sector need to improve.
He says policy makers need to address not only wages, but also job security, workloads, skills and career progression in the sector.
And he says that multi-employer bargaining is only one of the necessary policies, among after others, to bring pay and conditions in the sector into the 21st century.
As Ms. O’Neil said in her address to the Jobs and Skills Summit last week:
“We have a bargaining system designed for large, male-dominated workplaces, excluding women in feminized industries from the system and leaving them without the power to come together with others and bargain,” she said. .
“Let’s be very clear. Arguments for keeping our bargaining system historically and solely company-based are arguments for cementing women’s low wages for generations to come.”
Do other countries have multi-employer negotiations?
Dr John Buchanan of the University of Sydney, who has studied multi-employer negotiation for most of his academic career, told the ABC last week that Australia’s experiment in company negotiation had failed.
“Company bargaining” refers to wage negotiations that take place between an employer and the employees of a single company (i.e. a single company).
It is distinct from other forms of collective bargaining, such as sectoral bargaining which allows workers in an entire sector to bargain as one.
Enterprise Bargaining Agreements were first introduced in Australia in 1991 during the Hawke-Keating Labor era, with support from ACTU management and employers’ groups.
But they fell increasingly out of favor with employers and employees.
“Corporate trading was only designed for a very small part of the economy,” Dr Buchanan said.
“If you look at successful economies that people want to be like, if you look at, say, Denmark, Norway, Germany, you know, countries that have high living standards but also have inequality under control, they have management multi-negotiations.
“If you look at countries where things have gone really bad, like the UK and the US, they’ve really attacked this ability of people to come together in workplaces and ensure a fair standard.
“Some employer groups say [multi-employer bargaining] is a throwback to the 70’s i would just tell them no the 30 year experience of corporate negotiation has failed on many levels and it’s time to recognize that if one experience fails you move on you actually embrace something that is recognized as working internationally,” he said.
Dr Buchanan said employers’ fears that multi-employer bargaining could lead to more industrial action would depend on individual behavior.
“To be honest, it depends on where the employers stand,” he said.
“There may be a slight increase in strikes, but generally you find that when wages and conditions go up, and you have decent working conditions, labor turnover rates go down.
“You have to look at the big picture – if labor turnover is going down and things like skills training are improving, which is usually associated with multi-employer bargaining, you’re generally better off. lot.”
See his interview below.
He said German workers were among the most productive in the world because employers there coordinated their bargaining around wages and skills, and the same was true in Switzerland, Denmark and Norway.
The old economy no longer exists
A few months ago, Anthony Forsyth, professor of labor law at RMIT University, explained why corporate negotiation had failed in Australia.
He said corporate trading was designed for an economy that no longer existed.
“This fails especially for low-paid workers who lack bargaining power, and this is a big reason for such poor pay in female-dominated professions such as elderly care and childcare,” he wrote in The conversation.
“Allowing employees and unions to negotiate and take industrial action only for an agreement with a single company, or part of a company, works well with large construction sites, such as factories, with hundreds or thousands of workers with the same employer.
“But these types of workplaces are increasingly rare. Today, many employers in industries such as food production, logistics, warehousing, building management and high-street retail stores surface have divested much of their operations and workers to other entities.
“They have resorted to hiring labor, independent contracts and outsourcing to distance themselves from the responsibility of minimum employment standards – and collective bargaining.”
Professor Forsyth said that to raise wages, workers would need to build their bargaining power by being able to bargain – and strike – across entire industries.
“Hired workers must be able to negotiate not only with the agency that technically employs them, but with the company they work for –like amazonwhich has relied heavily on outsourced labor in its Australian operations,” he said.
“Workers who clean and provide security services in commercial buildings must have the ability to secure wage increases from major companies who ultimately control the share of labor profits.”
Writing the article in June, Professor Forsyth also predicted that the future of corporate bargaining is likely to be a “hot topic” at the jobs summit.
It’s always a matter of gender pay
But that’s not to lose sight of CUTA’s efforts to break down the barriers that prevent women from earning more in the workforce.
The union says multi-employer bargaining would improve bargaining access for childcare workers, aged care workers and a host of others.
But he also wants other things.
To get more women working and working the hours they want, he wants early childhood education and care to be free and widely available.
He called for 52 weeks of paid parental leave by 2030, with leave offered on a shared basis between parents, with incentives to promote equal parenting, and with a retirement pension paid on all parental leave.
And he wants a National Care Compact to address the crisis of overwork, low pay, job insecurity, lack of training and unsafe workplaces in the care sector.
In short, he wants the market to place a higher value on the work done in the care sector and he plans to do so, in part, by reducing the barriers preventing young mothers from working more and by reducing the barriers preventing young fathers to work less.
And multi-employer bargaining would be part of that plan.