SUBJECTS: Proposed Industrial Relations Laws, Fair Work Commission, Arbitration.
PETER STEFANOVIC, HOST: Let's go to Canberra now, because Labor's proposed industrial relations law has caused a bit of a rift with the business community – big one, in fact. Joining us live now is the Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke. Minister, good to see you. Thanks for your time and thanks for your patience there, sticking around. Business groups --
THE HON TONY BURKE MP, MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: You can have my boss on for as long as you want. I won't complain when that's happening.
STEFANOVIC: Business groups going to war with you over IR? Did you rush it?
BURKE: There has been plenty of consultation and even at the moment, some of the conversations that are happening behind the scenes are pretty constructive. I flagged in the speech yesterday that there are a couple of areas, about five different areas where we’re having constructive conversations that will probably result in government amendments to the bill. And that's because of those conversations that are happening, they'll address some of the concerns, not all of the concerns. And obviously, we are determined to get wages moving. We are determined that there's more job security and we want to close the gender pay gap.
STEFANOVIC: Now, Innes Willox, he was on the program earlier this hour. He says he's more than happy to work with you on a few of those items, but there is a couple of sticking points. One of them is strikes. Will this lead to more and frequent strike action?
BURKE: Yeah, the area of the act that they've been talking about saying, "oh, no, this will be new industrial action" is a single interest area and industrial action has been available there since the Act was introduced in 2009. The main change we're making to industrial action is, first of all, before it happens, there has to be compulsory conciliation. So before industrial action happens, we try to bring the parties together and see if a compromise can be brokered and see if the industrial action can be avoided. That'll be compulsory. The other thing that happens is arbitration. Now, we often talk about the industrial umpire. Most people don't know that for Fair Work, the industrial umpire is like - they're on the field, but they're only allowed to make rulings if both sides come to them and say, could you please make a ruling?
BURKE: What we're wanting to do is give the umpire a whistle. So, when you have these long protracted strikes where people – if you're not getting an agreement, people aren't getting their pay rise, the business isn't getting a productivity outcome, and for the rest of us, people get pretty annoyed at the inconvenience. Finally, the commission will have the power to arbitrate and bring those disputes to a close.
STEFANOVIC: Okay, I get that. But doesn't this give unions the power to pursue an unreasonable bargain claim, knowing that it will just go to the Fair Work Commission on any matter that's not accepted?
BURKE: I'll tell you, there's plenty of unions that – there are some that want arbitration, there are some that would prefer continued industrial action. It's not unanimous across the board. Effectively, we're making a very deliberate decision with all of this to make sure we get wages moving in those sorts of industries which you might say traditionally have been less militant. You can use whatever term you want. But basically, they tend to be lower paid. They tend to be feminised. And they're areas like aged care, like childcare, industries where bargaining simply hasn't been able to work for them. And multi-employer bargaining gives them the chance of being able to organise. But these are not the sorts of areas that are known for big industrial action.
STEFANOVIC: Ok. There has been concerns too, particularly from the Chamber of Commerce and Angus Taylor too, about this, leading to a wage-price spiral. An example is that your new subsidies that say childcare centres will just get swallowed up by higher wages and then in turn make bills become bigger for consumers. Is there a point to that?
BURKE: Yeah, I think they've misunderstood how the Act works and I appreciate – well, the business groups saw it last week, but Angus Taylor would have only seen it yesterday, so there'll be errors that he's making there. One of the things that happens, particularly in the supported stream, is the funder is brought to the table. So effectively, when these negotiations are happening, the government as funder can be brought to the table. So that you, in fact, are sorting out at the same time, the wage negotiation with the funding issues that they can be brought together, which simply hasn't been possible until now.
STEFANOVIC: OK, Tony Burke, appreciate your time this morning. Thanks so much. We'll talk to you again soon.