Labor’s secret plans – You’ve been warned

Janet Albrechtsen writing in The Australian.

First, Labor’s IR policy statement, Forward with Fairness, says: “Collective agreements will be at the heart of Labor’s industrial relations system.” It says a collective agreement will rule a workplace when agreed on by a majority of workers who turn up to vote. That means in a workplace of 1000 workers, if 100 workers turn up to vote and 51 workers vote yes to a collective agreement, that agreement prevails. The vote of 51 workers will bind all 1000 workers.

Second, and this is not in Labor’s policy statement, the unions plan to charge all 1000 workers a bargaining fee. This will deliver truckloads of cash to the unions when they are financially strapped and suffering from record low membership.

Even better, the plan will also boost union membership because unions will set a bargaining fee at a level higher than membership fees. Understandably, workers will be tempted to join a union rather than pay the higher bargaining fee. And as the ALP collects a percentage of union fees, each new member of an affiliated union means more money for Labor.

The figures are potentially staggering. Let’s take two examples. According to Grace Collier, a former union official who is an industrial relations specialist in Brisbane, a union contact in Telstra told her yesterday that unions extract on average just more than $455 in fees from each of the 9880 (26 per cent) union members who make up Telstra’s 38,000 workforce. So unions collect $4,497,041 from Telstra union members each year. Collier’s union contact is predicting that, under a Rudd government, a higher bargaining fee for Telstra’s 28,120 non-union members. Pegging it at $500 (he suggests it may be $800) will pull in an extra $14million for unions that negotiate collective bargaining agreements for Telstra workers. (At $800, it rises to more than $22million for those unions.)

Collier points to a smaller workplace, a private hospital in Brisbane she helped restructure. Of the 220 full-time nurses on a collective agreement, 30 are union members who each pay $416 in union fees, delivering the relevant nurses’ union a total of $12,480 each year. Under Rudd’s IR policy, if the remaining non-union members pay a bargaining fee of, let’s say, $500, the union will collect an extra $95,000. Now repeat that in small workplaces across Australia. No wonder they wanted this issue under wraps until after the election.

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