12 May 2020

Professor David Peetz: “What really needs simplifying in Australian IR is our enterprise bargaining system, which is remarkably complex. This is not because the ‘better off overall test’ means no worker can be made worse off by an agreement — something that irks some large corporations. It’s because the procedures tie worker representatives, in particular, in knots. … Australia’s enterprise bargaining provisions contain twice the number of pages of those in New Zealand’s Employment Relations Act, while the bar for prohibiting a strike is low. It is one thing to say (as a minority of OECD countries do), that strikes should be preceded by a secret ballot. It is another, less defensible thing to provide 24 pages of detailed prescription on how those ballots must be undertaken. Australia’s framework is much more complex than the comparable United Kingdom statute. Even the Productivity Commission, which is no friend of unions, has questioned the ‘overly complex processes for secret ballots’. … It is an oddity that, while awards have been simplified, the process of collective bargaining has been made remarkably complex in Australia. … To bring the system more in line with international practice on collective bargaining and industrial action, many restrictions should be removed.”