Labor finds surprising ally in giving Fair Work more power

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Labor finds surprising ally in giving Fair Work more power

By Angus Thompson

The NSW Liberal minister grappling with repeated strikes has backed the federal Labor government’s push under its contentious workplace bill to give the Fair Work Commission power to end industrial action.

In a submission to the inquiry to the landmark Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill, NSW Employee Relations Minister Damien Tudehope threw his support behind empowering the workplace umpire to intervene in drawn-out bargaining dispute after months of rail chaos endured by Sydneysiders.

NSW Employment Relations Minister Damien Tudehope (inset) supports Tony Burke’s push to give the Fair Work Commission more teeth.

NSW Employment Relations Minister Damien Tudehope (inset) supports Tony Burke’s push to give the Fair Work Commission more teeth.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen, Oscar Colman

Longsuffering commuters were compensated with free train travel this week due to the ongoing industrial action by the Rail, Tram and Bus Union as it continues its dispute with the state government over safety issues and pay.

NSW nurses also walked off the job for the fourth time this year on Wednesday, rallying in the Sydney CBD to demand a 5 per cent pay rise from the government.

Tudehope, who has been engaged in a war of words with federal Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke over the rail dispute, urging him to step in for the sake of commuters, told the Senate committee charged with scrutinising the bill that Fair Work’s proposed new powers were welcome.

“NSW is currently experiencing protracted industrial disputation in certain parts of its public sector, while in the broader economy there have been disputes that have dragged on for far too long, disrupting important supply chains, which can have a detrimental impact on NSW citizens,” Tudehope’s submission reads.

It makes reference to the ongoing tussle between maritime unions and tugboat company Svitzer, which threatened to lock out its employees in response to ongoing industrial action in a three-year pay dispute until Fair Work intervened earlier this month.

Labor’s proposed change enables deadlocked parties to ask Fair Work to intervene in the dispute and help them come to an agreement. The umpire can make an intractable bargaining declaration, under which industrial action isn’t permitted. It can also force the parties to arbitration to reach a deal.


Tudehope said it was important the proposed scheme gave each side an incentive to negotiate with one another without resorting to the need for arbitration.


“Accordingly, the proposed protracted bargaining scheme is welcome and supported in circumstances where a resolution between the parties appears to have reached an impasse,” the submission reads.

The federal government is negotiating with Senate crossbenchers over its wide-ranging bill, which has drawn fire over provisions to give workers more bargaining power through multi-employer agreements.

A Senate committee recommended raising the threshold for small businesses to be pulled into multi-employer agreements by changing the definition of a small business from 15 to 20 employees.

Key crossbencher David Pocock is negotiating with the government over that definition, among other issues, and Senate crossbenchers are under pressure to decide whether to support the bill so debate in the upper house can be brought on next week.


Greens leader Adam Bandt, who is also negotiating with the government over the legislation, said the party was making progress in the discussions.

Wentworth independent MP Allegra Spender said that threshold wasn’t high enough, suggesting 100 was more appropriate, while Goldstein’s Zoe Daniel, who supported the bill in the lower house, said the number should be slightly higher than 20.

Burke, who accused the NSW government of incompetence over the rail dispute, told parliament during question time on Wednesday the government was considering the committee’s recommendations.

The Coalition has accused the government of making calculation errors in the cost analysis of its bill.

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