Unions should act like they did in Hawke's day: BCA chief Jennifer Westacott

November 01, 2018

A push by the ACTU to reintroduce industry-wide or pattern bargaining will serve as the enemy of job creation in workplaces being rapidly transformed by automation, the Business Council of Australia says.

Conservative Party leader Cory Bernardi says with the likelihood of a Labor win at next year's election looming large, Australia's best insurance against the unions taking centralised control of the Australian economy is to vote for your Conservative Party candidate in the Senate.

The Australian Financial Review reports, in a speech where she also urges business to embrace changes or be left behind, BCA chief executive officer Jennifer Westacott invited the ACTU to sit down with her organisation and work together on an industrial relations system better suited to what is colloquially known as the future of work.

In what some regarded as the BCA hedging on a change of government next year, Ms Westacott said she did not want a fight with the union movement which, she said, had been fundamental to the wellbeing of society,

But with automation and other technological change already upon us and replacing many old economy jobs, Ms Westacott said Australia must address its literacy problem, its entrenched disadvantage and it needed "a modern workplace relations  system".

"This must begin with a universal safety net that spells out basic rights and conditions such as the minimum wage, leave and entitlements, and a fair and transparent process for dismissal,' she said.

But the IR system also needed to work at a enterprise or workplace level so workers and bosses could manage change.

"But, sadly, this is not the system the ACTU wants. Instead, they want a return to industry-wide bargaining," she said.

"Somewhere in Australia irrespective of your town, your circumstances, and your conditions, your agreement will be negotiated by a big union, potentially in another state.

"An industry-wide agreement that imposes the same standards on all companies, irrespective of their needs, is unworkable.

"It will hurt workers in regions, and it will hurt the least skilled.

"It will also hurt small business owners trying to get their enterprises to adjust to change, and keep pace with global competition."

Ms Westacott said the union movement needed to return to its role, such as that during the Hawke era, in which it worked with government to "open up Australia and introduce enterprise bargaining which drove productivity which, in turn, drove higher wages".

"I really do believe we need to move the conversation from conflict and combat to one where we solve the problems that confront many Australians," she said.

"My phone is on. Our doors are open. I encourage the ACTU to sit down and work with us. There are legitimate problems and we need to solve them together."

She said Parliament's decision to block company tax cuts for big business as "a terrible mistake, a colossal mistake" and "we will see in 10 years' time how well the Australian economy fares as country after country lowers their rate and draws in more investment".

Ms Westacott said wages growth would be driven by improved productivity and that required increased investment.

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