A major industry body is opposing a union move that would prevent employers in the transport, construction and electrical contracting industries from engaging outside labour at cheaper rates.
The Australian Industry Group aims to overturn an in-principle deal that is earmarked to cover hundreds of Victorian employers and more than 10,000 electricians, setting precedents for other bargaining rounds.
The AIG will seek to block the first of the deals negotiated by the Electrical Trades Union, arguing the terms are unlawful under the Fair Work Act, the Trade Practices Act and the Building Construction Industry Improvement Act.
It will argue the agreement requires details of contractors and labour hire companies to be given to the union, which will lead to pressure to negotiate union-endorsed deals or be frozen out of contracts.
It will also argue that a clause requiring employers to promote union membership to “all prospective and current employees” is unlawful. A hearing has been set down in Fair Work Australia on April 4.
The case will be followed closely in the Victorian construction industry as it negotiates new agreements with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, which wants to include similar clauses to prevent undercutting of pay and conditions.
Meanwhile, the Transport Workers Union has been pushing for owner-drivers and casuals in the trucking and logistics sector to be paid at the same rate as permanent employees.
Earlier this month, the Gillard Government rejected the union push to change workplace laws, with Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans ruling out changes to the legislation.
A spokesman for the Minister says the Act has “considerably improved protections against job insecurity, not least by restoring unfair dismissal protections to 4.3 million Australians.”
“Modern awards can and do provide secure employment clauses for casual workers. Similarly, job security can and is the subject of bargaining, including by providing that contractors be engaged on terms and conditions that do not undercut those of employees,” he says.
But Tony Sheldon, federal secretary of the Transport Workers Union, says the union will continue to campaign for changes on behalf of workers.
AIG chief executive Heather Ridout says the union push is damaging for employers and workers.
“To remain competitive, companies need to maintain a flexible workforce, which will often include the use of casuals, on-hire employees and independent contractors, as well as full-time and part-time employees,” Ridout says.
Ridout says the government should change the Act to prevent enterprise agreement clauses that restrict the engagement of on-hire employees and independent contractors.