Labor promises miners common law deals 'similar to  		AWAs'

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Labor promises miners common law deals 'similar to AWAs'

Labor has told the Australian mining industry that the abolition of AWAs would not undermine the current flexibility they have with their employees, but the Federal Government sees this as an acknowledgement that Labor has 'blundered' with its AWA decision.

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Labor has told the Australian mining industry that the abolition of AWAs would not undermine the current flexibility they have with their employees, but the Federal Government sees this as an acknowledgement that Labor has 'blundered' with its AWA decision.

Media reports say that Labor's IR spokesman Stephen Smith met with mining industry representatives last week. Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Sam Walsh said Smith had indicated in the meeting that Labor was considering allowing common law contracts in the mining industry that would offer similar benefits to AWAs.

Walsh said that although AWAs allowed greater flexibility in the workplace, he was confident that a sensible and workable model could be established under Labor.

Angry miners

'I would have a bunch of angry miners on my hands if AWAs disappear and are not replaced by something fairly similar,' Smith said.

Smith told the Australian Financial review that Labor has 'believed from day one that our combination of collective bargaining and common law agreements, underpinned by Labor's minimum standards, would provide the upwards flexibility enjoyed in the minerals, petroleum and resources industry'.

'We want there to be overall advantage to the employer, the employee, and the nation though international competitiveness and productivity,' he said.

Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) chief executive Steve Knott said AWAs used in the mining industry commonly prohibited industrial action and were important in ensuring the continuity of supply agreements with Australian international trading partners.

A 'blunder'

Acting Workplace Relations Minister Philip Ruddock claimed Stephen Smith had conceded Kim Beazley's pledge to abolish AWAs was 'a blunder'.

'Smith is now also trying to appease the mining industry by privately acknowledging its need for AWAs,' Ruddock said.

He said Smith would not be able to deliver the common law contracts in the mining industry that would offer 'the same sorts of benefits' as an AWA because he will not be able to answer these questions:

Key questions

Ruddock posed some key questions for Labor:

  • Will Labor policy overturn almost a century of legal precedent and now allow common law contracts to override awards? How will this be done? Common law contracts are not the same as AWAs. Only AWAs, not common law contracts, can legally override prescriptive and inflexible awards.
  • How will Labor ensure that companies who have enjoyed the benefits of AWAs not be returned to prescriptive, inflexible award regulation? Abolishing AWAs will allow workplaces to once again be controlled by unions who have a vested interest in maintaining awards which regulate every hour of every workers day.
  • What will Labor do to ensure that the 85% of employees who are not union members will continue to have the right to negotiate directly with their employer? Abolishing AWAs in favour of common law contracts will give unions a legal right to be involved in the bargaining process.
  • How does Labor plan to ensure that companies are not exposed to crippling industrial action? Abolishing AWAs in favour of common law contracts will allow the union movement to take industrial action at any time.

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