Women's Party outlook on industrial relations


The Australian Women's Party (AWP) formed last year around the central aim of increasing women's parliamentary representation. Recently, it released its industrial policy about which Green Left Weekly's JENNIFER THOMPSON spoke to JENI EASTWOOD. Despite attempts by the ALP and ACTU to pretend otherwise, enterprise bargaining has made women workers' second rate position in the work force much worse. Asked whether the AWP supports changing the current industrial relations framework Eastwood said, "We don't reject enterprise bargaining out of hand. We don't see any problem in discussions at an enterprise level that result in improvements for workers, but enterprise bargaining doesn't benefit everybody. We are opposed to enterprise bargaining as a form of wage fixation and are advocating a return to annual wage rises based on cost-of-living increases." To differentiate between good and bad enterprise bargains for workers, Eastwood said, the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) would have to have a greater role in monitoring agreements to make sure that the "no disadvantage" test is strictly applied and that there is specific evidence of consultation. The AWP is also proposing a system of legislated employment standards that would become basic minimum rights for workers. These would be issued by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission or arrived at through consultation between employers, unions and the community. The standards would include maternity leave, grievance processes, recruitment practices, child care, outwork and contract work, as well as other issues not covered comprehensively by awards or legislation. The AWP's "innovative" approach to dispute resolution is informed by the idea that the relationship between bosses and workers need not be "adversarial". "We think that mediation processes could be used ahead of more formal processes of conciliation and arbitration. Things become industrial disputes because workers don't have a system of resolving things with more informal advocacy and processes", said Eastwood. The AWP also supports removing current punitive measures which can be used against workers undertaking industrial action. To begin to tackle the gap between women's and men's total earnings, caused partly by men receiving more overtime and over-award payments, Eastwood noted that over-award payments should be regulated by an employment standard and overtime be limited to create more employment. "We see reducing working hours as the way of increasing employment", Eastwood commented. The AWP aims to guarantee employment for everybody who wants a job. Eastwood said this will require public spending and an increase in public works, adding that there were "lots of people out there who would like to work less hours", but work is structured to require us to work full time. "Some people don't even want to earn the amount they do by working full time — I'm an example of that", she said. Asked how the AWP proposes to reduce working hours and still safeguard incomes, Eastwood was not specific, saying that the fact that a lot of people needed to work full time to survive financially could "partly be balanced off through the tax system, but it's about giving people choices". The AWP supports affirmative action rules for trade unions to ensure that women gain representation on union decision making bodies, but it also advocates legislation to "regulate" trade union leaderships' composition. Whether the IRC would be responsible for regulating elected leaderships is not specified in the policy.