Unions’ push for information could spell disaster, says Employment Minister

by Chloe Taylor21 Apr 2015
Employment Minister Eric Abetz has referred to unions’ pursuit of access to sensitive financial information from employers as a “disaster”.

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.”


  • by Joan 21/04/2015 12:18:11 PM

    In exchange for Company financial information, how about Unions be forced to disclose how many Union Members they have at a site? Might change their mind when the tables are turned.

  • by SD 21/04/2015 12:21:47 PM

    Employers cannot always be trusted to tell the truth? And unions? I've worked with unions for a long time & I can assure you many "confidential" conversations occur, proving up who leaked the info should make for an interesting experience. I work for a public business with ASX requirements in terms of notifying markets on financials, forecasts etc before others. There is not a chance on God's green earth that with or without a confidentiality agreement that we would trust ANYONE with financial information - never mind unions. How do they maintain confidentiality during the bargaining process when their view on what the company can/can't afford is derived from the confidential information? How do they explain that to their members? Given unions play from a socialist perspective, I would say if you're making a profit of any kind then you can afford to pay whatever % increases they're looking for. I am yet to meet a union official of any level of seniority with experience in running a business or financial acumen. They tend to have made their way through the ranks and often have no tertiary education. Being promoted is generally about how long you've been around. On that basis, how do they make an educated assessment of any financial data provided to them in a snapshot in time?

    We pay some of the highest wages in the world, cost of goods and the overall cost of doing business is becoming unaffordable for many business and off shoring of jobs will continue. Perhaps unions need to spend more time protecting their members from a lack of general affordability with government. This appears to be the reason why they are pushing for such increases & consequently the root cause of the problem. Dealing with the symptom of lack of affordability with a band-aid solution of continuing to increase wages has a fast approaching ceiling.

  • by MM 21/04/2015 1:17:56 PM

    If an employer is negotiating an EA and telling employees and their representatives that they "can't afford" an increase (even a reasonable one) rather than "we don't want to give you" an increase - then there should be something that backs up that statement.

    I don't know how a company can transparently act in good faith and refuse to support their own statements with accurate data.

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