The Australian Financial Review reported yesterday that unions are pushing for a change to the Fair Work Act which would require employers to disclose confidential financial information during wage negotiations.
If the changes were implemented, companies would have to hand over comprehensive internal accounts, budgets and forecasts to unions in the negotiation process, while the unions would be required to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Abetz told AFR
yesterday that providing these financial records to unions would have “absolutely disastrous” consequences for employers.
“All Australian businesses, especially smaller businesses, should be seriously concerned about this proposal to give union bosses access to their sensitive financial information,” he said. “It's about time that Bill Shorten showed some leadership and ruled out adopting this proposal at the upcoming Labour Party conference. This is a proposal that not even Julia Gillard adopted when she was Labour leader. As proceedings in the Heydon royal commission have shown, certain union bosses cannot even be trusted to protect the integrity of their own members' financial information.”
Innes Willox, Australian Industry Group chief executive, said that the Fair Work Act’s current good faith bargaining obligations meant that employers already have to provide certain information, and joined Abetz in criticising the unions.
“The provisions balance the interests of all parties,” he told AFR
. “The unions' claims should be seen for what they are – a massive fishing exercise.”
The union drive is being led by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union with support from the Australian Workers Union, the Transport Workers Union and the Maritime Union of Australia.
“Big business cannot always be trusted to play fair or tell the truth,” said Bob Nanva, national secretary of the RTBU. “The RTBU stands ready to hold mass meetings so that the minister can directly explain to workers why companies should not be forced, by law, to tell the truth during enterprise negotiations. Working people are sick of the political games, and sick of people like Senator Abetz telling them they can't handle the truth.”
He added that the push for change is simply an attempt to gain “full transparency” from employers.
Ben Potter wrote in another AFR article
recently that the unions’ success would bring a system into Australia which mimics the co-operative practices of German workplaces.
Ultimately, Potter suggested that caution – and finding a balance – is key to changing the “Anglo-Saxon” tradition of separation and hostility in which companies and unions currently operate.
“It would be unwise for Aussie bosses to plunge headlong into a system from a completely different culture,” Potter wrote. “Some of our most prominent unions haven’t earned that trust. But it would be just as unwise to assume that they never will, and to set our faces against methods that work well elsewhere as we seek a fresh start in digital-age manufacturing.”
Employment Minister Eric Abetz has referred to unions’ pursuit of access to sensitive financial information from employers as a “disaster”.