The federal government says it won’t be changing its proposed workplace relations laws, despite union claims that workers’ bargaining rights are still at risk.

The ACTU today launched a new advertising campaign in Melbourne urging the government to establish a comprehensive system of collective bargaining, to ensure better pay and conditions for workers.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow said while the government had already taken steps to undo the damage caused by the Howard government’s Work Choices policy, there was still some work to be done.

“We have concerns about the scope of bargaining, and whether it is genuinely free bargaining to meet the test of the modern workforce,” Burrow said.

She said some companies had refused to recognise the rights of workers to bargain collectively, and a system should be put in place which ensured agreements were reached in good faith.

Burrow also called for the new industrial umpire, Fair Work Australia, to be given the power to settle disputes.

“We want to see that, particularly for low-paid workers, there is the capacity for the umpire to act when companies simply say ‘no’.”

The ads featuring real workers speaking about the value of collective bargaining, will be broadcast over the next six weeks, in the leadup to the expected introduction of the government’s next stage of its IR laws.

Burrow said restrictions proposed by the government on the content of collective agreements would be a barrier to innovation and a modern economy.

However, Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard said the government planned to legislate for the fair collective-bargaining system, as promised in its Forward With Fairness policy.

“It is not everything the unions wanted and lots of employers criticised it too, but the fair bargaining system we will bring into law, we believe, gets the balance right,” Gillard told ABC television today.

Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate Helen Coonan described the government policy as “Work Choices lite”.

“It is causing a lot of problem with the union. What we want to do is to obviously have a look at it,” she told Sky News.

“We will support what replicates our policy position and we will obviously be opposing what doesn’t.”

The government is likely to face problems getting the legislation passed through Senate, where it doesn’t have a majority.

However, Burrow said it was important Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull made a stand.

“Will they (the Opposition) stand with working Australians and respect their decision of almost a year ago. Or will they stand with big business?”