NSW wage decision set to sink ACTU 'campaign'

Issue 

By Dick Nichols

SYDNEY — Since April, when the ACTU launched its "campaign" for the full Accord Mark VI against the Industrial Relations Commission's "rotten egg" decision, industrial relations junkies have been speculating how the wage fixation system would deliver enough to keep all the "players" happy this time around.

The answer came last week, when the New South Wales Industrial Commission handed down a decision that appears to give the right-wing Labor Council machine here just enough to be able to drop its support — always reluctant — for the ACTU campaign.

The NSW tribunal's crafty package, which covers about 1.2 million workers under state awards, contains:

l A flat $10 increase for those on $400 a week gross or less (instead of 2.5% for those above $400). This enabled Labor Council supremo Michael Easson to described the decision as "a far better decision than what was determined at a national level".

l A green light for enterprise productivity bargaining. Unlike the federal decision, which rejected enterprise bargaining, this decision faces reality. In stronger workplaces and those surviving the recession, many such deals have been worked out for some time. Employers in these areas accumulated so much profit during the boom that local pacts were well worth the investment.

l Rejection of the claim for additional payments for public sector workers based on comparison with the wage movements of private sector counterparts.

l Support for the IRC's refusal to grant the ACTU claim for a second 3% across-the-board instalment on superannuation. This is the main difference between the Accord Mark VI and the April IRC decision. Labor Council acceptance of the decision would leave the ACTU campaign without some of its biggest battalions.

The Labor Council is angling towards acceptance of the package. While the May 30 Labor Council resolution only noted the decision, secretary Easson told the media that it represented "a very significant breakthrough". Bill Kelty said called it "superior" to the national ruling.

Finally, it's worth noting what all the heated posturing over different wage claims and decisions amounts to eight years after the Accord. For the woman process worker grossing $320 a week, the NSW decision means a rise of $10 instead of the $8 allowed by the April national decision — stunning largess. And if the original ACTU claim had been granted, it would have meant a rise of fully$12.

Since Malcolm Fraser's wage freeze of June 1982, the average process worker has lost between $75 and $90.