Accord Mark 6.5?
By Peter Boyle
In talks with ACTU officials before and after the February 26 economic statement, the Keating government stitched up a new Accord deal. Unions will defer a national wage claim till next financial year and limit the eventual claim to the inflation rate of Australia's major trading partners.
In return, the government has promised to support a general wage rise "in principle" when the claim comes before the Industrial Relations Commission.
In the meantime, the government intends to put through changes to the Industrial Relations Act to "encourage" unions and employers to enter into enterprise agreements.
The 1990 Accord deal, Mark VI, focussed on enterprise bargaining, but it came to grief when it was rejected by the IRC last year. The ACTU stormed out of the hearing and pledged to pursue wage increases "out in the field". Most workers missed out on any compensation for price rises for the previous 18 months (the 1990 wage hearing had been deferred to 1991 because of oil price rises associated with the Gulf War).
The IRC later backed down, and several enterprise agreements were struck last year, but few have been registered under act so far. In some cases, such as the recently opened Daimaru department store in Melbourne, employers are seeking to break these agreements. Another enterprise bargaining flagship, a deal at chemical giant ICI, is also reportedly under stress.
The new agreement to delay the wage claim means that an unspoken "Accord Mark VII" has operated this financial year in the form of a de facto wage freeze.