AMMA rates the major political parties on IR

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AMMA rates the major political parties on IR

The Coalition’s ‘strong stance’ on unlawful industrial action means that the party is slightly better suited than is the Labor Government to meeting the key needs of employers in the resource construction sector, according to the Australian Mines and Metals Association.

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The Coalition’s ‘strong stance’ on unlawful industrial action means that the party is slightly better suited than is the Labor Government to meeting the key needs of employers in the resource construction sector, according to the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA).
 
In its analysis report Industrial Relations Policy Scorecard, AMMA weighed up the industrial relations policies of Labor, the Coalition and the Greens and provided each with a numerical score in terms of its ability to effectively service seven key areas, which AMMA maintains are the necessary criteria in a modern industrial relations systems.
 
The seven key areas, which AMMA developed in 2007, are:
  • ‘A national regulatory framework
  • Minimum standards and awards
  • Agreement making
  • Agreement processing
  • Industrial action and compliance
  • Unfair dismissal
  • Union right of entry and access to records.’
 
The Coalition’s IR policies received the highest score with a total of 18 points out of a possible 28, followed by Labor with 17 and the Greens with 8.
 
Overall, however, AMMA concluded in the report that the IR policies of all three major parties ‘fall short’ of the sector’s requirements.
 
Commitment to ABCC gives Coalition the edge
 
AMMA chief executive Steve Knott explained that the Coalition edged out Labor in the scorecard because it had committed to retaining the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) and the Building & Construction Industry Improvement (BCII) Act, whereas Labor planned to abolish the ABCC and repeal the BCII Act.
 
According to the report, AMMA has ‘consistently argued’ that the building watchdog should be retained ‘as is’ because of its ‘superior enforcement and compliance powers and independence from government’, especially in circumstances where individual statutory agreements have been abolished and there is no longer the ability to make non-union Greenfield agreements.
 
‘With a record number of large resource projects either under construction or in their final planning stages, a strong stance on unlawful industrial action in the resource construction industry is essential to Australia’s economic interests,’ Knott said.
 
Greens policy ‘outdated’
 
Meanwhile, AMMA described the Greens IR policy as ‘dismal’ because it advocates:
  • unionised bargaining as a primary industrial tool
  • union activity in the form of secondary boycotts
  • abolishing the requirement for mandatory secret ballots before protected industrial action can be taken
  • abolishing the ABCC and the BCII Act
  • reinstating conciliation and arbitration as the primary basis for an industrial relations system.
 
‘The Greens’ policy is anathema to any industrial relations system that purports to be modern or progressive,’ the AMMA said.
 
‘It does nothing to support either industry generally or the resources sector in particular, and fails to recognise any need for individual arrangements, contrary to the resource sector’s needs,’ Knott said.
 
Parties failing to correct deficient Fair Work Act
 
Despite the Coalition being the favoured party in terms of its IR policies, Knott was critical of both Labor and the Coalition, because neither intended to make changes to the Fair Work Act 2009 during the next three years if elected, even though AMMA’s members had identified ‘serious deficiencies’ with the operation of the Act.
 
‘[The Act’s] industrial agreement making options and processes are not conducive to maintaining or expanding workplace efficiencies, which have been achieved in the sector over the past decade of industrial relations reform,’ Knott said.
 
‘As such, the ability of employers to engage directly with their workforce — where most efficiencies can be gained — is being eroded by the FW Act.’
 
Recommendations for ROE and agreement making
 
Of note, AMMA found that Labor and the Coalition underperformed in meeting two of the resources sector’s necessary criteria — ‘agreement making’ and ‘union right of entry and access to records’.
 
In terms of ‘agreement making’, AMMA maintains there must be access to a broad range of agreement-making options (collective, Greenfield and statutory individual agreements) with a duration of up to five years, and that agreements should be customisable to the needs of the relevant parties and be capable of overriding awards or collective agreements. In this regard, both parties tied with a score of 1.5 out of 4.
 
In terms of ‘union right of entry and access to records’, AMMA maintains that ‘there should be a single national right of entry law for unions, with access restricted to meeting union members who have requested the meeting and where a genuine breach of an industrial instrument or a provision of the FWA Act has occurred’. In this regard, both parties tied with a score of 1 out of 4.
 
AMMA recommended the following in terms of improving IR polices concerning agreement making and union right of entry:
 
Recommended changes to agreement making
  • ‘Employers negotiating greenfield agreements should have the alternative of having a greenfield agreement approved by Fair Work Australia free of any union involvement. These agreements would be tested against the relevant modern award, minimum standards and the ‘better off overall test’ (BOOT) so as not to disadvantage prospective employees.
  • Restrictions should be imposed against union-specific content in enterprise agreements that do nothing to boost the productivity of the enterprise. The matters pertaining to the employment relationship test should be restricted to matters pertaining to the employment relationship between employers and employees and not extend to the relationship with the union.
  • New employers should not be burdened by the industrial agreements of previous employers. A six-month end date for transferable industrial instruments rather than their open-ended application following a transfer of business would make it more attractive for employers to engage employees from the previous employer.
Individual Flexibility Arrangements (IFAs) 
  • A further obligation should be introduced for FWA and the parties to enterprise agreements to ensure flexibility terms are capable of delivering genuine flexibility and productivity benefits and are not depriving employers and employees of the benefits of those arrangements.
  • The legislation should be amended so that majority flexibility clauses in enterprise agreements cannot be used by unions to veto the genuine flexibility that the Fair Work Act intended to be negotiated between employers and employees on an individual basis.
  • Section 482 of the Fair Work Act should make it explicit that unions cannot access employee records in the form of IFAs that have been agreed between an employer and an individual employee without the employee’s written authority.
  • IFAs should be able to be a condition of employment given the statutory protections in place that guard against employees and prospective employees being disadvantaged.
  • The ability for employees to terminate an IFA with 28 days’ notice should be removed and a four-year maximum end date introduced for IFAs.
  • The legislation should be changed to remove the ability for employees to take protected industrial action during the life of an IFA where an IFA is made under a modern award or an enterprise agreement that has passed its nominal expiry date.
  • The legislation should clarify the test FWA is required to apply when deciding whether a flexibility clause meets the genuine needs of the employer and employee.
  • The General Manager of FWA’s review of IFAs currently scheduled to commence on 1 July 2012 should be brought forward by 12 months to commence no later than 1 July 2011.’ 
 
Recommended changes to ROE policies
  • ‘Before unions are able to enter a worksite under the Fair Work Act they should have to meet the following criteria:
    • have employees at the worksite who are members and eligible to be members under their rules;
    • union members have requested the union to attend the site on their behalf; and
    • the union is a party to an enterprise agreement covering the employee members it seeks to visit or, failing that, it is attempting to reach such an agreement.
  • There should be no ability under the legislation to agree to additional union entry rights in enterprise agreements other than what is contained in the Fair Work Act itself.
  • The Government should close the loophole that allows unions to access non-member records under the Model Work Health & Safety Act to make it consistent with the Fair Work Act.
  • There should be no expansion of existing right of entry laws despite the union movement’s ongoing campaign to broaden the application of those laws.’
 
Further recommendations can be found in the report. 
 
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