May 13th: In an initial response today to the Government’s announcement of proposals to reform the 2001 Industrial Relations (Amendment) Act, trade union Unite said that the proposals do not appear to vindicate the right of workers to negotiate collectively through a body of their choice. Unite also expressed concern at the decision to retain the position of so-called ‘excepted bodies’.
“Despite the commitment in the Programme for Government, what was outlined today does not provide for collective bargaining or vindicate employees’ right to collective representation. Rather, the proposals outline mechanisms for workers whose employers refuse to negotiate collectively with a body of the workers’ choice – and that is a very different matter”, Regional Secretary Jimmy Kelly pointed out.
“The focus of collective bargaining legislation must be on the rights of workers – rather than the rights of employers. Employees must be able to freely choose the body through which they wish to negotiate. In our view independent collective representation is key to effective legislation. Such legislation must create conditions in which a democratic choice can be made by employees free from interference or coercion by the superior power of the employer. Employees must be free to opt for independent collective representation if they so wish.
“Not only do the proposals outlined today not provide for collective bargaining – Unite is also concerned that the proposed legislation will retain the position of ‘excepted bodies’. In effect, this means that companies may choose to negotiate with their employees through an employer-sponsored association rather than through a trade union, but that workers would not be afforded a similar choice”, Jimmy Kelly said.
“This could result in workers being forced to negotiate with their employers through what would essentially be company unions. Employer-dominated bodies or company unions have long been outlawed as an unfair labour practice in Canada and the United States. Employer-sponsored bodies or company unions are regarded by the ILO as an interference with freedom of association.
“Unite will be commissioning an analysis of the proposed legislation when the Heads of Bill are published, and following completion of that work we will be bringing recommendations to the ICTU Executive for submission to Government, with a view to ensuring that any legislation conforms to best practice and fully vindicates the right of employees to independent collective representation”, Mr Kelly concluded.