Transport Workers Union leader defends strike plan for ‘industrial chaos’


“We won’t be pattern bargaining,” Mr Kaine said.

“What we will be doing is using the current system to the letter of the law. We make no apology for this approach.”

Business leaders say the person who replaces industrial relations minister Kelly O’Dwyer, expected to be announced this week, must “bridge the class divide” and deliver reforms that promote job creation and economic growth, including a relaxation of workplace laws.

Defiant union leaders have vowed to fight hard against any watering down of worker rights – arguing the Morrison government has no mandate to do so – as they prepare to launch a ‘plan B’ in pursuit of the wage rises promised by former Labor leader Bill Shorten.

Industrial action is only legal under the Fair Work Act if it is undertaken in pursuit of a new enterprise agreement with a single employer.

Mr Shorten had promised to change this to allow low-paid workers to strike across entire industries.

Under the current system, employers can seek a court order to break up strikes if held across different employers if the enterprise agreements contain common terms – but it is a contested area of law with few precedents on where to draw the line.

Michael Kaine leading a rally of airport employees protesting against working conditions at Sydney Airport last year.Credit:James Alcock

Addressing the union’s national council in Cairns on Tuesday, TWU secretary Michael Kaine told members: “Over the next year we will launch the most concerted push in our union’s history to bolster our bargaining power.”

“Workers will unite right across the airports and road transport industries,” he said, naming baggage handlers, cabin crew, waste workers, oil tanker drivers, concrete drivers, tippers, drivers in the retail supply chain and drivers of armoured cash vans as those who would fight for “sector-wide” changes.

Through carefully lining up the timing of its EBAs, the union has set itself up to mount a defacto industry-wide bargaining process it says is allowed under current laws.

Its game plan is to cause enough disruption in the supply chains of major retailers, manufacturers, airports, oil companies and banks that these organisations will get on board with demands for higher wages for the contract workers they indirectly employ.

TWU members protest outside an Aldi supermarket, demanding 'safe rates' for truck drivers.

TWU members protest outside an Aldi supermarket, demanding ‘safe rates’ for truck drivers.Credit:Perry Duffin

The approach has already had some success, with Coles and Woolworths last year signing a charter with the TWU commiting to ensuring that their supply chains were not contributing to unsafe practices by time-pressed truck drivers. Aldi has refused to engage with the union.

Mr Willox said “genuine enterprise bargaining” had served Australian employees and employers well for more than two decades and that there was “no reason why this should not continue”.

“There is no other bargaining system that would not cause far more problems than it solves,” he said.

“Industry bargaining has no legitimate place in Australia’s workplace relations system.”

Dana is health and industrial relations reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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