Simplify the bargaining system to prevent it from dying

17 March 2022

Australian employers' trade unions and government should join together to simplify the enterprise bargaining system through practical amendments.

That's according to CQUniversity's Adjunct Business and Law Professor' Hon. Reg Hamilton who is advocating for greater collaboration to develop the enterprise bargaining system as they did in 1988-1996 and to restructure awards 1987-2022.

"We need a functioning enterprise bargaining in the private sector' not a return to regulation by awards alone.

"Only about 27 per cent of enterprise agreements are approved without amending undertakings'" he said.

"This is surely the sign of a system that can be improved. Mistakes are made in the explanation of the terms of an agreement to employees.

"Trade unions and employees find that beneficial agreements can be held up by technical mistakes and litigation. Both unions and employers seem to agree it is a problem."

The former Fair Work Commission (FWC) Deputy President explained that the enterprise bargaining system was originally developed by joint action and agreement' as well as conflict.

"If it could be done then it can be done now. There is an overlap of objectives' and all sides want a working enterprise bargaining system which is not dying in the private sector."

"My suggestion is to simplify the system to help users' just as we simplified and modernised awards.

The FWC could undertake the work that employers and unions find difficult. It could approve agreements before employees vote on them' within for example 21 days of application' and do all the necessary undertakings' explanations to employees and the like'" Hon. Hamilton said.

"Employers would not have to do this work then if anyone was unhappy with the result then the ordinary approval process could be used."

He believes this will give employees confidence that they are voting on 'rolled gold' agreements.

"These agreements will not require repair or rejection' and employees will not have to read lengthy up to 100-page so-called explanations of the agreement which may be in error.

"Similarly'employers would not have to write 100-page explanations and then have the explanation and the agreement fail or require change.

"The FWC could conceivably draft and approve standard agreements for each award that contain a set of rolled-up wage rates which only apply to the roster set out in the agreement' with non-standard rosters to be worked under the award or not at all'" Hon. Hamilton suggested.

"Alternatively' the rolled-up wage rates could be included as schedules to awards. This would mean that the parties do not have to apply the complex rules for loaded rates."

To help create future change' Hon. Hamilton said it would also be useful to convene a national conference to engage in these issues.

"Most conferences focus more on partisan issues and proposals' not on joint cooperation.

"There is a need for a conference that could engage employers' trade unions and academics on the overlapping objectives of employers' employees and trade unions'" he said.

"Finally' these issues are relevant to the Productivity Commission inquiry whom which I have provided with my suggestions."