When this writer first came into Industrial Relations the notion of “enterprise bargaining” did not exist. Wages were determined by the Award system. Wage negotiations were conducted by trade unions talking to major employers and industry associations, usually in that order! Unions would attempt to secure their desired deal by pressuring a small number of major companies and then moving to force that deal onto other employers in the industry. Eventually once the deal was accepted broadly within the industry the union would move to seek a variation of the industry Award to reflect the deal.

All this changed at the beginning of the 1990s when the Hawke/Keating government introduced enterprise bargaining. The Hawke/Keating government had realised that insular industry deals could not exist in an economy that had been opened to global competition and global markets. They were quite correct in that realisation.

Which brings us to November 2018. There is a lot of noise about a “return to industry bargaining”. The CFMMEU (the merged result of the MUA and the CFMEU coming together) has been pressed into action to push for industry bargaining at a series of workers rallies. The Opposition Shadow Minister for IR Brendan O’Connor has also said that a Shorten Government would look to reintroduce industry bargaining to assist lower paid workers.

The question is: does this herald the end of civilisation as we know it? The answer is: probably not but how industry bargaining can work in a modern and open economy is somewhat beyond this writer. One thing enterprise bargaining has accomplished is that it has forced unions and employees to focus on what business is really all about. That was simply not the case before enterprise bargaining was introduced. I’m not convinced that industry bargaining will do more than reintroduce old, bad habits. I don’t think industry bargaining will wreck the country because I don’t think it will ever be what it was in the 1980s and earlier. I see it as having limited effect and then being quietly shelved as ineffective. I’m sure the unions and Brendan O’Connor will disagree with me. Let me know what you think.