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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: August 2018

Chapter 4 - Bargaining, awards and the National Employment Standards


Overview: some basic concepts

What is enterprise bargaining?

Enterprise bargaining is the primary process by which employers and groups of employees collectively negotiate and agree terms and conditions of employment which will apply to their employment relationship.

There are many forms of enterprise bargaining. An informal discussion between a work team and their supervisor, if it leads to an agreement which is then followed in respect of that work team, can be categorised as enterprise bargaining. However, the term is mostly used to describe a formal process which takes place under either State or Federal industrial relations legislation. For the private sector, the legislation is the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

The key characteristics of enterprise bargaining, which have changed incrementally over time as legislation has changed but which have remained relatively constant in practical application, are:

  • • Enterprise bargaining occurs between an employer, or in some cases a group of employers, and employees who are within a defined scope. In some cases, the scope can be as broad as the employees in a particular industry. In other cases, the scope can include all of an employer's employees. In other cases, the scope will be limited to particular employees, and in many cases, employees in one particular work location.
  • • There are formal rules which govern how enterprise bargaining can commence (and who has the capacity to commence it).
  • • Once commenced, there are rules which govern the obligations of all parties involved, including formal requirements in respect of administrative processes.
  • • Both the employer and employees, or different sub-groups of the relevant employees, are entitled to be represented by bargaining representatives. Trade unions are generally permitted to be bargaining representatives for employees who are their members or for employees within their eligibility rules who have not joined the union but who have appointed them as bargaining representatives. Under the Fair Work Act unions are in fact the default bargaining representative for their members and will have that role unless the employee appoints a different bargaining representative.
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