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This author has not submitted any other articles.Recent Articles about Indonesia / Philippines / Australia Workplace struggles
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IR Reform encourages Lockouts
indonesia / philippines / australia | workplace struggles | opinion / analysis Friday October 14, 2005 11:51 by by Takver
We are returning to the Industrial Relations policies of the 1890s
Howard Government, employer initiated lockouts have grown ten fold, with few restrictions on their use.
We are returning to the Industrial Relations policies of the 1890s, with the latest workplace and Industrial Relations Reforms. With the accord and introduction of enterprise bargaining of the Hawke Government in the 1980s, unions have become less militant, more bureaucratic, with an emphasis on negotiation and a subsequent decline in using strike as an industrial weapon. With the election of the Howard Government there has been a growing restriction on the legal use of strikes. In the later years of the Howard Government, employer initiated lockouts have grown ten fold, with few restrictions on their use.
Lockouts cost 18,700 working days between 1994 and 1998. Over the four years to 2003 almost 200,000 days were lost. In a 2004 report by Dr Briggs, a senior researcher for Sydney University’s industrial relations think tank ACIRRT, the frequency of lockouts and strikes over ten years was studied with the finding that employer lockouts accounted for 57 per cent of all disputes between 1998 and 2003, compared with seven per cent between 1993 and 1997. Dr Briggs said there had been a further surge in lockouts during 2005. «More than half of all long disputes, which last for more than a month, are employer lockouts. Employers, not unions, are now responsible for most of the long-running disputes in Australia» Dr Briggs writes.
The Introduction to the report describes Lockouts as:
«A lockout occurs when an employer temporarily withdraws paid work for its employees, refusing to allow their employees to enter the workplace to exert economic pressure on them to yield in a labour dispute. Lockouts were once regarded as historical curios of an era long-gone, found only in the late 19th century when unions were struggling to establish themselves or the crisis years of the Great Depression. But lockouts have resurfaced in a series of disputes since the shift to enterprise bargaining, rising sharply as strikes have fallen to historic lows. In the second half-decade of enterprise bargaining (1998-2003), lockouts accounted for just under one-tenth of working days lost to disputes and over half of the ‘long’ disputes (longer than a month) – which is especially significant because the economic, social and personal fall-out from long disputes can be irreparable. Employers, not unions, are now responsible for most of the long-running disputes in Australia.» Lockout Law in Australia: Into the mainstream? Dr Chris Briggs - Working Paper 95 (December 2004) (PDF 262Kb)
According to Dr Briggs, the new reforms will encouage employers to use lockouts. While unions planning strike action have to apply to the Industrial Relations Commission with employer rights of appeal, and initiate a secret ballot, which may delay legal strike action for months, employers would be able to start a lockout simply by giving their staff three days’ notice.
«I don’t think it is democratic,» Dr Briggs said, commenting that the new laws would shift the balance of power in industrial actions too far against workers. The report comments that lockouts are most often used to force workers to sign individual workplace agreements, force out unions from the workplace and to lower wages. Lockouts can also be used offensively by employers, prior to any union action, a notion not found in most other western nations. «The types of lockouts that are going on in Australia aren’t legal elsewhere where you can’t lock people out to try and force them to sign an individual workplace agreement in any other country,» Dr Briggs said.
The Right to Strike and the Right to Lockout
An excerpt from the transcript from The National Interest on ABC Radio National on 24 July 2005, between Terry Lane and John Buchanan, from the School of Business at Sydney University, explains the imbalance of industrial power between workers and bosses that will be entrenched by the latest legislation:
Terry Lane: Now the advertisement promises that the right to strike will not be taken from workers. This comes as a bit of a surprise because I thought that there were already so many legal restrictions on the right to strike, that it’s virtually non-existent.
John Buchanan:Yes. Look, technically once again, the government is correct. There will be a right to strike, but the Bill that is currently in the Senate on the right to strike, is primarily about having secret ballots before strikes are taken, and it is 44 pages long. So you don’t have to be Einstein to work out that that’s a pretty circumscribed right, it’s not a generalised right to take strikes any time you like.
Terry Lane: But there’s also only a specified time when you have a right to strike.
John Buchanan:That’s right.
Terry Lane: When you’re negotiating a new agreement, as I understand it. And the employer has the control over what time that is.
John Buchanan:That’s right. And the employer will have rights to scrutinise the question that’s to be put to ballot, and they’ll have the capacity to challenge the electoral roll that will cover the workers covered by the ballot. So the capacity for employers to intrude in the decisions to make strikes, will be of an extremely high order, and it was those kind of intrusions which made these kind of provisions immensely cumbersome in the UK. Terry Lane: But on the other hand, looked at from the other side, the boss will be able to lock out his workers for any reason, provided he gives three days notice? John Buchanan:Yes, that’s right. My colleague, Chris Briggs, is a specialist on this question, and he’s done some pioneering research on what he calls ‘the Australian lockout’, and he has shown that no other country in the Western world has such a liberal regime for lockouts. So essentially an employer has the right to lock out a worker, with only three days notice, and industrial tribunals have very limited capacity to impair employers’ rights to take such action. My colleague, as I mentioned, Chris Briggs, has studied this and he’s come across documented examples where individuals have been locked out for over two and a half months on the basis of AWA lockouts. Now compare that to what’s being proposed for unions, the right to strike will be circumscribed to the point where it’s going to take at least four to six weeks for any group of workers to take industrial action, and then it can be challenged all the way through by employers. Employers on the other hand, can single out individuals and lock them out indefinitely with three days’ notice, no questions asked. The asymmetry of power here is simply breathtaking.
(The National Interest: 24 July 2005 - Workers’ paradise - Terry Lane with John Buchanan, Director of ACCIRT, the centre for the study of workplace issues in the School of Business at the University of Sydney.
Staff lockouts rise tenfold in decade SMH - By Nick O’Malley Workplace Reporter - August 15, 2005 Employer lockouts cause longest & worst disputes - LHMU - 03 October 2004 IR Reforms Will Reshape Our Society - Dr Chris Briggs - Canberra Times, Opinion Piece 06 June 2005 reposted on ACTU website.
The National Interest: 24 July 2005 - Workers’ paradise Radio National transcript The Prime Minister’s address to parliament on workplace relations reform: Lockout Law in Australia: Into the mainstream? Dr Chris Briggs - Working Paper 95 (December 2004) (zipped PDF 262Kb)
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