It’s been interesting to track the uptake of the ACCC’s streamlined procedure for granting exemption to small businesses wanting to engage in collective bargaining with customers and suppliers. As was expected, there was early uptake by newsagents and car dealership franchisees when the exemption procedures commenced on June 3, 2021. Somewhat surprising (or not, depending on your perspective and experience), has been the uptake by healthcare professionals.
In one application, the Australian Society of Anaesthetists accessed the exemption procedure on behalf of anaesthetists treating public health system patients in private hospitals in Victoria.
The Society indicated that is wished to negotiate about “processes to ensure the safety of public health system patients treated in private hospitals, industrial conditions and remuneration of anaesthetists participating in such treatment.”
In another application, a bargaining group of dentists and dental practices significantly owned by members of the Australian Dental Association accessed the exemption procedure to collectively negotiate with private health insurance companies, their intermediaries, and payment gateway providers about the terms and conditions of provider contracts and policies and “all matters related to the conduct of the target businesses … including rights to contract”.
The subject matter of the exempted negotiations remains strongly “industrial”, at present. That might not be surprising.
However, locum agencies who have significant numbers of independent contractor locums on their books might start to anticipate that, before too long, independent professional health practitioners, who up until now have not had much access to collective bargaining, may shortly wake up to the fact that the ACCC’s streamlined process now gives them that access if they can organise themselves into bargaining groups.
At some point, recruitment and staffing agencies may also begin to recognise the potential to collectively negotiate on tenders – especially if their bargaining groups are able to harness competitive cost and supply efficiencies that can be available through networked arrangements.
It’s a fascinating development to watch unfold. And, whilst the streamlined class exemption procedure doesn’t compel the target to negotiate with the group, it might often be wiser to find ways of using the procedure constructively than to resist it. Recruitment and staffing firms and procurers of their services should take note.
Andrew C. Wood