Published: 28/09/2009

Under the Rudd government’s new industrial relations laws, flexibility clauses need to be included in all enterprise agreements, and employers are using the opportunity to undermine collective bargaining. The Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) and other Australian unions are challenging the employer drive through workplace action.

“All of a sudden we have employers wanting to visit this issue”, says AMWU National Secretary Dave Oliver. “We reject the notion that employers can seek an agreement with an individual which will undermine the collective agreement and also disadvantage individual workers.” The most common employer tactic is to pressure individual employers to sign up for hours which would normally qualify for overtime. The AMWU supports flexible working arrangements, but not at the cost of undermining the job security and working conditions secured through collective bargaining.

In an important test, the union beat back a two-day lockout at a Campbell’s factory in Victoria state, forcing the company on September 17 to drop its push for workers to be able to individually sign contracts. The company has agreed to drop its flexibility clause and adopt the union’s proposed clause in the agreement, which requires individual arrangements to be approved by a majority of a specified work team. The Campbell’s Soup spokeswoman conceded that in the face of union opposition “It can’t be done with an individual. It has to get a majority from the work team in question.”

With a large number of agreements coming up for negotiation soon, the union has applied to ballot for industrial action at 43 other workplaces in Victoria, including food companies Nestlé, Coca-Cola Amatil and Heinz.