IR system has ‘deteriorated’ under FWA, say miners

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IR system has ‘deteriorated’ under FWA, say miners

The mining and resources sector has attacked the Fair Work industrial relations system, saying a survey of companies has shown the IR system has deteriorated compared to the previous regime under the Howard Government.

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The mining and resources sector has attacked the Fair Work industrial relations system, saying a survey of companies has shown the IR system has deteriorated compared to the previous regime under the Howard Government.
 
A survey by RMIT, commissioned by the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA), has shown unions have a growing and obstructive influence in the sector.
 
Companies pointed to a growing ‘us versus them’ confrontation with unions and an increasing number of ‘frivolous’ unfair dismissal claims.
 
The survey says the introduction of the Fair Work Act 2009 has led to a deterioration in industrial relations conditions from resource industry employers’ perspective across the board.
 
Significant deterioration
 
‘There is no area of industrial practice looked at from the position of management in this sector that has not shown a significant deterioration relative to the practices and outcomes under the Workplace Relations Act,’ the survey report says.
 
The survey asked respondents to rate their experience of the first eight months of the Fair Work Act (from 1 July 2009 to 28 February 2010) compared with the industrial relations system that had gone before it, namely the Workplace Relations Act 1996.
 
A range of industries within the resources sector were captured in the responses, including general mining, offshore maritime, hydrocarbons, construction, coal mining, gold mining and catering.
 
Positive
 
The general view among the respondents to the AMMA survey was that workplace relations conditions during the survey period were generally positive, with 42.6% stating their workplace relations environment was ‘good’ and a further 11.8% stating it was ‘excellent’.
 
But when asked to compare the current workplace relations environment with the environment during the eight-month period leading up to the introduction of the Fair Work Act, 36.8% of respondents found the workplace relations environment had deteriorated, while just 1.5% indicated it had improved.
 
This perspective was repeated throughout the survey in each of the areas for which the experience of workplace relations managers at AMMA’s member companies were sought.
 
These areas were:
  • union involvement in the workplace
  • labour productivity
  • direct employee engagement
  • unfair dismissal
  • right of entry
  • workplace flexibility including individual flexibility arrangements (IFAs)
  • the National Employment Standards
  • modern awards
  • industrial action
  • wages
  • enterprise bargaining and agreement making
  • proposed reforms to the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act 2005.
 
Biggest issues
 
The single biggest issue with the Fair Work Act most commonly cited by survey respondents was enterprise bargaining negotiations under the new system, with employers still trying to come to grips with their rights and obligations under ‘good faith bargaining’.
 
Other key findings of the survey were:
  • union involvement in the workplace is increasing and becoming more obstructive of managerial action
  • labour productivity in the workplace is being eroded
  • it is becoming more difficult for managers to directly engage with their own workforces without union involvement
  • the unfair dismissal legislation is leading to an increased number of claims and more frivolous claims
  • the right-of- entry rules are increasing the presence of unions in the workplace even where unions have no members at a worksite
  • workplace flexibility is being diminished both through the actions of unions and through employers’ involvement in tribunal processes
  • industrial disputation is on the rise
  • claims for higher wages are increasing
  • the time involved in reaching enterprise agreements is lengthening with the union approach to bargaining in some workplaces becoming more intractable
  • the changes proposed to the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act have created large and deep concerns within businesses in the resources and construction sectors.
 
‘The Fair Work system is new and may be subject to a period of settling in,’ the survey report said.
 
Teething problems
 
‘There are obviously the usual teething problems that any new system brings with it. It may well be the case as time goes by that there will be a return towards a better workplace relations environment for employers.’
 
‘In the meantime, however, the results of this survey and focus group discussion suggest there has been a significant deterioration in the industrial relations environment in the mining and resources industry.’
 
‘The likelihood is that the experience of this industry will be similar to other industries that have not yet undertaken such detailed research.’
 
‘Us versus them’
 
‘The concern now is that the Fair Work Act may be fostering an “us versus them” relationship that was not so much a factor in the previous period.’
 
‘By putting more levers into the hands of unions, there is evidence that those levers will be used in ways that lower productivity and diminish the growth and investment prospects of the industry.’
 
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