WEL 1998 Election Form Guide

Industrial Relations

This is one of the areas where the overall approach of the two major parties offers very clear contrasts. Women generally occupy lower paid jobs and are more likely to be part time and casual than men. They also tend to work in the services, in smaller businesses and lower levels of the public service. They are often not in the position to bargain effectively on their own behalf because of the structures of their employment. There is also the problem of different time needs with men often trading into longer hours per shift and longer breaks, or shifting hours of employment with no fixed pattern within an overall limits. Where women have children in school or childcare, predictability of hours and shorter timespans may be essential as they usually pick up children.

1993-96 under Labor +2


Commitment to maintain the award system while also encouraging enterprise bargaining. Awareness of importance of continued access by unions to workplaces and to be parties in both types of negotiations to protect less powerful workers. Aware of possibilities of problems for low paid women workers, promised monitoring and review processes.


Introduction of more forms of bargaining and agreements which made it possible to reduce the legitimacy of using centralised bargaining for those areas of work where the enterprise was not appropriate.

1996-98 under the Liberal/National Party Coalition -3


Publicly supported the introduction of more part time and flexible working arrangements recognising family responsibilities. However, the evidence is in that workplace agreements are reducing the items relating to these areas and the changes in awards are often impacting badly on casual workers eg by reducing minimum times and continuity of shifts.

Casual work - While it is positive that limitations on regular part-time awards have been removed by the Act, this is more than balanced by the removal of any limits on the number of casual workers employed by any employer. Casual work is a female-dominated area, closely associated with low pay, low status, low skills, low training and high levels of job insecurity.


Awards - Setting maximum conditions for industrial awards which provide protection for terms and conditions of employment. Women's awards were the first to have employment conditions removed under the 'simplification' provisions of the Coalition Workplace Relations Act. Employers nominated, as the first to be 'simplified', awards covering teachers, nurses, shop assistants, hospitality workers and graphic arts. Now clothing outworkers are having their awards 'simplified'. Awards set the benchmark against which agreements are tested so simplification lowers the benchmark, particularly for occupational groups with less bargaining power - often largely composed of women.

Agreements - Decentralised bargaining has favoured men. Recent studies in Australia indicate that where enterprise bargaining has taken place, larger wage increases have occurred in sectors where men work. Men are also more likely to be in agreements that provide for productivity payments. Industries where women work - such as hotels, retail and service industries - have seen smaller wage increases and wage-conditions trade offs. It is more often the case that the reduction of penalty and overtime rates has occurred in women's work.

Individual contracts (Australian Workplace Agreements - AWAs) assume that an equality of bargaining power exists between any employer and any employee. Many women work in insecure and low paid forms of employment and have little bargaining power. No information has been made available on how women, as a group, are faring under AWAs. The 1997 Bargaining report, which WEL sought to have required under the Workplace Relations Act, has not been released by the Government.

Equal pay - The gap between non managerial men's and women's wages has not narrowed any further under a Coalition government, even though many lower paid women have been forced to leave their jobs because of child care costs.

Child Care - The Coalition government's policies on child care have significantly raised the costs of formal care, especially for those using community based care. This is a particular problem for women from Non English speaking backgrounds who want to use these services as they have set up access programs.

Job Insecurity - The Coalition's policy of excluding workers in workplaces with less than 15 employees from protection against unfair dismissal will deny many women job security.

Election Promises by Labor +2


The ALP has given a commitment to undo award simplification and to focus on taking positive measures to reduce levels of casual employment and job insecurity. It has also undertaken to extend the protection of the industrial relations system to workers who may not strictly fall within the definition of employee. These initiatives are welcome.

The ALP has undertaken that all agreements will be subject to testing requirements aimed at ensuring transparency, openness and accountability for all agreements. It has also undertaken to require the Commission to "have regard to the needs of the low paid and those without the ability to bargain collectively". While these measures, too, are very positive, it is not likely that they will fully protect the interests of women who are bargaining for their wages, or who are unable to bargain.


WEL remains concerned about the impact on women of enterprise bargaining.

Election Promises by Liberal/National Party Coalition - 3


None proposed so far


The Coalition has indicated that it wishes to simplify measures for approval of workplace contracts. If the agreement testing process is weakened, women are likely to be further disadvantaged. Their unfair dismissal Bill will be reintroduced, and they intend further reforms ‘to free’ the labour market.

SCORE Labor +4
Coalition -6

Back arrowForm Guide | Election index | WEL home page

Page created 20 September 1998; last updated 20 September 1998