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Work councils could be the future of Australian industrial democracy in an ABCC world

Eugene Schofield-Georgeson writes in The Conversation (17.2.17) about implications of the passage of the federal government’s ABCC legislation through the Senate. The author argues that a major shift to an industrial relations model that benefits all parties will only happen with the utmost co-operation of Australian workers, unions and – most crucially – employers.

‘Work councils are one model of industrial relations that could potentially fill the enormous gap in Australian industrial democracy left by precarious employment and the decline of the union movement.

‘Canberra was once again the scene of further blows against construction workers and their union when the federal government this week passed legislation to hasten the onset of laws linked to the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

‘In something of a one-two combination for the Australian union movement, the ABCC’s return accompanies reports that national union coverage has dwindled to its lowest ebb. Union membership now stands at around 15%.

‘In Australia, the growth of casual jobs outstrips the creation of permanent jobs by nearly two to one. Such precarious employment prevents workers putting down roots in their workplace, joining a union or engaging in enterprise bargaining.

‘The wane of the union movement need not sound its death knell, nor the end of collective bargaining. So long as there is work, there is a future for the rights of workers and unions. But such a future in Australia may look very different to the current industrial relations landscape.’

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