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Labor’s union showdown

WA LABOR leader Geoff Gallop’s stand on industrial relations could force a bloody showdown with WA’s unions.

If elected, Labor plans to abolish WA’s Workplace Agreements Act while keeping individual contracts and instituting a “no disadvantage” test.

Dr Gallop wants individual contracts kept because they have been beneficial for workers in the resource and mining sectors – traditional Labor heartlands.

Unions WA secretary Tony Cooke said unions considered individual contract retention unacceptable.

Mr Cooke said he wanted collective arrangements.

“We’ve suggested Labor says all employees’ total salary packages should leave them no worse off than they would be under award for their industry,” he said.

It is likely the unions will call a Labor State Conference unless Dr Gallop backs down.

Labor-affiliated unions, which Unions WA is not, hold a 60 per cent vote at the State Conference.

The unions can set Labor’s platform to oppose individual contracts.

Dr Gallop and the Labor Caucus establishes the issues the party contests at an election. However, they cannot go against the platform the State Conference has set. Dr Gallop said his position on industrial relations had not changed.

“I am sticking to the two principles I have outlined,” he said.

“Firstly, an end to discriminatory legislation against unions and, secondly, an end to the Government’s Workplace Agreements Act and the creation of a new system based on flexibility and fairness and flexibility with room for individual contracts.”

By bringing employee conditions back to a centralised arrangement, the unions are asking Labor to legislate them back into relevance.

However, this is unlikely under Dr Gallop’s leadership. Like his old Oxford chum, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he seems opposed to the idea.

Mr Cooke said unions did not need government legislation to survive.

“It is not good to encourage lazy unions,” he said.

However, the union hold on the workforce has fallen to 26 per cent.

Small business is one of the largest employers in WA and unions have little control of the sector.

Combined Small Business Associations of WA president Oliver Moon said small business owners did not want the unions telling them what to do.

“While the union hold on the workforce is falling, they have a say that is so pervasive through the award structure.”

Mr Cooke said the unions had conceded the need to ensure employers without a union workforce had flexibility.

He said the unions had proposed a fairness test to ensure employers did not use enterprise bargaining agreements to put pressure on workers.

“We want one rule for all,” Mr Cooke said.

He said his organisation had nothing against employers negotiating individual contracts, providing they only had one employee.

For example, Unions WA would not object if a business employed a maintenance fitter on a flat rate of $40 an hour.

However, if the business employed an electrician to supplement that maintenance fitter, the electrician would have to be put on the same contract as the fitter.

Mr Cooke said his organisation wanted Labor to apply a three-year term to its industrial relations policy.

He said this would prevent employers signing workers onto Workplace Agreements as a knee-jerk reaction to a Labor Government coming in.

Workplace Agreements are binding for five years.

Mr Cooke said Labor’s proposals did not meet International Labor Organisation standards.

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