30/07/2009 - 00:00

New IR era starts with an access dispute

30/07/2009 - 00:00

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THE state's peak business organisation is urging employers to get independent advice before signing documents from unions seeking negotiations over pay and conditions, following claims the CFMEU has been operating contrary to new industrial relations laws

THE state's peak business organisation is urging employers to get independent advice before signing documents from unions seeking negotiations over pay and conditions, following claims the CFMEU has been operating contrary to new industrial relations laws.

Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA workplace relations policy manager, Marcia Kuhne, said since July 1 the CFMEU had been demanding negotiations with local employers over pay and conditions.

"I think everyone is coming to terms with what the procedures and protocols are under the new laws, but it's fair to say that it's no surprise unions are behaving in this way," Ms Kuhne told WA Business News.

A letter signed by CFMEU secretary Kevin Reynolds, which has been obtained by WA Business News, claims that the union is the employees' bargaining representative, meaning the employer must commence negotiations over pay and conditions with the union.

CCIWA chief executive James Pearson this week told an IR conference in Perth that the letter was misleading and wrong.

"It was more evidence showing how Western Australian unions are prepared to be flexible with the truth in order to flex their new-found industrial muscle on local employers," he said.

"The letter made misleading claims about the union's rights and entitlements under the new laws.

"Unions have made it clear they will exploit the new laws to increase their membership, and increase their control over Australian workplaces."

Under the new industrial relations laws, bargaining for new pay and conditions starts when the employer agrees to bargain with the employer's chosen representatives, the employer initiates the process, or the industrial umpire orders the employer to bargain.

However, Mr Reynolds told WA Business News the union employed three lawyers and that it was CCIWA that was wrong.

"[CCIWA] can make all these grand statements all they want but at the end of the day we're not negotiating for workers who haven't asked for it," he said.

"We represent the members and we aren't going to represent anyone who doesn't want to be represented.

"We write to employers seeking to commence discussions about new agreements, it's what we've done, it's what we've always done."

Mr Reynolds conceded that the union was taking advantage of the new laws to recruit members, numbers of which had fallen significantly in recent years.

Master Builders Association WA construction director, Kim Richardson, said the law appeared to be an inconvenience to the CFMEU.

"I am of the view that the CFMEU is not unintelligent in understanding IR laws and are good at causing confusion to exploit, agitate and to take advantage," he said.

"They are skilled at misrepresenting what they can and cannot do, which seems to be the case at the moment."

Principal consultant at West Perth-based industrial relations firm Strategic Human Resources, Colin Gibson, said while many of his clients in the construction sector were not overly concerned with the CFMEU's actions, they were concerned with potential union action in the future.

"Right of entry notices by the [construction] union with our clients is the biggest issue so far and union visits to our clients' sites have increased significantly," Mr Gibson said.

"I think the bargaining laws seem very clunky and convoluted so we'll see how that plays out."

While the transitional changes to the federal Workplace Relations Act have already started, far more substantive changes are due from January 2010.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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