Record industrial disputes figures, a wake up call for government

The number of industrial disputes in Australia is on the rise, according to the latest statistics released by the Australian Bureau of Statistic (ABS).

Sixty-six 66 disputes took place in the September quarter 2011, ABS figures revealed. This was 13 more than in the June quarter 2011.

September quarter figures also showed that the number of employees involved in industrial disputes was 66,400, an increase from 14,700 in the June quarter 2011.

A reported 101,300 working days were lost due to industrial disputation in the September quarter 2011, which is an increase from 66,200 in the June quarter 2011.

The combined education and training, and healthcare and social assistance industries accounted for 49,200 (49%) of the total number of working days lost in the September quarter 2011.

The coal mining industry had the highest number of working days lost per thousand employees (155.8 days lost) for the quarter.

In the September quarter 2011, New South Wales accounted for 52,900 (52%) of working days lost.  The sate also had the highest number of working days lost per thousand employees (16.8 days lost) for the quarter.

The ABS also noted that while there were fewer disputes during the year ending September 2011, more working days was lost during the same period.

197 disputes were recorded during the year ending September 2011, which is 36 fewer than in the year ended September 2010, while 214,400 working days were lost during the year ended September 2011 compared with 144,100 in the year ended September 2010.

In the manufacturing industry, the month of September 2011 was dominated by industrial disputes at one of Australia’s leading automotive manufacturers, Toyota Australia.

The Toyota pay dispute commenced in late August and continued to mid-October when the automotive giant reach an in principle agreement with the unions which will see its factory workers receive a 13% pay rise over 42 months.

The car manufacturer lost a reported $10 million in sales alone every day its workers are on strike. In September Toyota workers went on strike for five days reportedly costing the car makers at least $50 million in sales.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the latest ABS industrial dispute statist should serve as a huge wake up call for the Government.

Addressing the National Press Club on Wednesday, said the current industrial scene is deeply worrying, particularly worrying because of its growing adverse impact on the flexibility and performance of key industrial sectors, especially at a time when we need to be increasing our flexibility and responsiveness.

 “We all knew the Fair Work Act would increase union power but there has also been a discernable negative change in union culture and behaviour. This was something which we warned may happen when the Act came in,” Ridout said.
 
“When the Act was introduced into Parliament we prepared a list of over 60 areas where union power had increased. This list would be twice as long if we had prepared it today, given the way that the unions have pressed the boundaries of the Act over the past two and a half years and the interpretations which the Courts have placed on some of the sections, for example, the General Protections.
 
“It has been several years since we have seen so much industrial action taken against multi-national companies and in the public sector.”

Ridout noted that is there is a significant lag in the ABS industrial dispute statistics and expects the next report will confirm a further deterioration in the industrial environment.
 
“There are many instances where unions are pressing the new rights which they have acquired under the Act, such as the right to take industrial action over a much wider series of claims. The pursuit of union job security clauses and restrictions on outsourcing fall into this category,” Ridout said
 
"We are also seeing instances of unlawful behaviour.”

To view ABS Industrial Disputes Data – September quarter, click here.

Image: Qantas workers on strike in Adelaide in September [sourced: Adelaide Now]