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Senior Union Leader in Australia Among Others Calling for Arbitration Reform

Tuesday, March, 26, 2013


Paul Bastian, national secretary of the influential Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, is publically criticizing stalling tactics in proposed legislative changes to Australia’s Federal workplace laws.  According to Bastian, he was “hugely disappointed” that Australia’s government is not dealing with the newly proposed arbitration legislation until their winter parliamentary session.  However, the country’s employers are happy about the decision.   

Union leaders across the country, including Bastian, are seeking changes in arbitration law on a wide-scale basis, particularly relating to employers like Cochlear, a bionic ear manufacturer.  Cochlear has refused to form a workplace agreement with unions for over five years, thus prompting union leadership’s push toward enforced arbitration on a country-wide basis.  According to Bastian, the fact that Cochlear’s workers are unable to access arbitration is proof that the country’s Fair Work Act leaned more on the side of employers and was biased against workers. 

Due to this and other similar situations, Bastian and other senior union leaders have written to Bill Shorten, Workplace Relations Minister, requesting that the Australian government make significant changes to the Fair Work Act allowing all workers to access arbitration through the Fair Work Commission, if necessary, for prolonged disputes that occur between employers and employees within the country.  

Speaking about a case in which an Australian airline, Qantas, was granted arbitration, Bastian recalled, “We have seen Qantas cause chaos in airports across Australia to get a pay dispute referred to arbitration, yet there is no similar mechanism for workers, regardless of how their employer behaves." He referred to the Qantas case to show “how unfair the legislation is, and how biased it is."

In a press conference, Bastian asked, "How much more evidence does the government need that the current system is not working, when an employer can negotiate with no intention of reaching any agreement with workers, the way Cochlear has?” He continued to assert how Cochlear employees have been waiting for several years for a negotiation agreement and have done all that was asked of them; nevertheless, Cochlear refuses to sit down at the bargaining table.