Labor's IR policies 'not so bad', says BHP

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Labor's IR policies 'not so bad', says BHP

Mining giant BHP Billiton has softened its response to Labor's proposed new IR regime and now says it can live without AWAs.

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Mining giant BHP Billiton has softened its response to Labor's proposed new IR regime and now says it can live without AWAs.

BHP Billiton was at the forefront of the opposition to Labor's plan to abolish AWAs, saying such a move threatened its growth potential.

However, after yesterday's annual general meeting at the Hilton Hotel in Adelaide, Chief Executive, Marius Kloppers said the company wanted flexibility in its industrial relations arrangements but was not concerned about how those were labelled.

Not criticism

'One shouldn't take engagement [with the ALP on the issue] to be criticism. They're two different things,' Kloppers said. 'We had a process of engagement, various people talked and listened.

'Our stance is unchanged. For us, it's all about flexibility and upskilling of our employees, the ability to redeploy them. Provided that we can get those things, we're quite ambivalent about what particular arrangement we have, what they're called and what alphabet soup ultimately gets tied to a particular arrangement.'

ALP policy modified

Following criticism of the plan to abolish AWAs by the mining industry, Labor modified its policy to enable employers earning more than $100,000 to be exempt from award coverage and free to negotiate their own working conditions.

Kloppers said BHP Billiton would continue to be engaged in the debate about industrial relations but he could not say what form that would take.

Australian Mines and Metals Association Chief Executive, Steve Knott said he expected the scrapping of AWAs probably would go through smoothly.

'Ugly' side of unions

However there was a risk the 'ugly side' of the union movement could seek to exert its influence in a destructive way, he said.

Knott said mining companies were committed to about $178bn's worth of projects Australia-wide with another $200bn's worth in the pipeline which depended on industrial relations reforms.

Continuity of supply

'Whether those projects get a tick or a cross a couple of years down the track may be a result of Labor continuing to ensure we have no industrial action and continuity of supply, which is what the Chinese ask for.'

A Rio Tinto spokesman said the Labor Party had given it a good hearing over its views on IR reform.

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