There are many international examples of collective bargaining frameworks that operate at a level beyond a single business or a single workplace. For example16:
In Germany, bargaining usually takes place at an Industry level and generally there are different agreement reached for different regions. There are different structures for reaching consensus on arrangements with individual business, being matters not dealt with in the regional industry agreement. As at 2011, in the regions formally comprising West Germany, 61% of employees are covered by collective agreements of which 54% are industry level agreements. In the former East Germany, these figures are 49% and 37% respectively17. The Federal Labour Court in Germany has recognised that strikes for the purposes of concluding collective agreements are constitutionally protected18.
In Denmark, approximately 80% of workers are covered by collective bargaining19. There are three layers of agreements – national framework agreements, industry level agreements (dealing with some pay and conditions while also setting a framework for single company negotiations) as well at the single employer level. The right to strike is supported by the Danish labour Court and domestic legislation, and includes taking sympathy action20, although the right may be restricted by a collective agreement.
In Belgium, national negotiations set the minimum wage as addressing broad matters such as training, employment programs and childcare. Industry and company level negotiations also occur, however each industry agreement requires workers to be better off than the national agreement, and each company level agreement similarly requires improvements over the industry agreement.21 Negotiations at all levels are supported by a right to strike via a monositic legal system that generally gives precedence to international obligations over domestic law22.
In the Netherlands, the National Minimum Wage is set outside of the collective bargaining process. Most agreements are negotiated at the industry level and some are framework agreements which set the parameters of company level bargaining. Industry level agreements that cover a majority of an industry can be administratively proclaimed to cover the whole of that industry.23As with Belgium, the monositic legal system has seen the right to strike domestically drawn from international obligations, and in particular Article 6(4) of the European Social Charter which supports strikes taken in support of collective negotiations.24
The above is not raised to suggest that Australia should shift in all respects to a model of industrial relations based on one of these examples. It merely serves to demonstrate that other advanced economies have managed to accommodate some framework and practice that extends beyond “enterprise” collective bargaining supported by collective action rights – in some cases to directly comply with their international obligations.