Accord Mark VII
The ailing industrial relations tradition of relatively regular, if inadequate, national wage increases to keep wages within shouting distance of prices, and to force employers to share some of the fruits of productivity gains, will be buried if the Keating government's proposed Accord Mark VII agreement is accepted by the union movement.
The proposal, put forward by industrial relations minister Peter Cook on August 11, seeks ACTU agreement that there will be no national wage increase this year, and $10 a week increases in 1993 and 1994 for only the lowest 30% of wage earners. Any other increases will be available only through enterprise bargaining. Such a deal would mean another cut of about 2% in the real wages of workers unable to negotiate enterprise deals.
This proposal builds on Accord Mark VI, which set up a two-track national wage policy allowing small (less than enough to compensate for inflation) and delayed across-the-board increases, while more powerful unions were freed to pursue whatever they could get through enterprise agreements.
Senator Cook said that if the ACTU rejected the latest Accord proposal, the government would alternatively "support" the ACTU's modest claim for an $8-$10 weekly across-the-board pay increase this year. However, he added that this claim would probably be rejected by the Industrial Relations Commission (very likely considering this virtual instruction from the government, together with employer opposition to any national wage increase).
The ACTU will not present its formal response until after the federal budget on August 18, but there have been few whimpers from top union officials. ACTU president Martin Ferguson chose instead to praise the federal government's industrial relations policy and warn against opposition plans to further deregulate the labour market.
One of the few publicly critical union voices was ACTU executive member and Health Services Union assistant national secretary Jan Armstrong, who warned that only a "privileged few" would benefit from enterprise bargaining.
"You tell me how four child-care workers in a child-care centre are going to get an enterprise agreement out of their employers — or how a woman working in a women's refuge is going to get a significant wage increase out of her employer", Armstrong said.