Mines association baulks at ALP IR policy


Mines association baulks at ALP IR policy

But Federal Labor would be opposing legislation introduced by the Federal Government that strengthened employers’ ability to issue AWAs.


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The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) may have put out the welcome mat for the Shadow Workplace Relations Minister at this week’s mining forum, but it won’t be embracing ALP policy on enhancing AIRC powers anytime soon.

AMMA CEO Steve Knott told WorkplaceInfo he had no problem with two parties having their dispute resolved by the AIRC, as long as both parties agreed the AIRC was the desired method for dispute resolution.

He did not want to see the reintroduction of forced arbitration.

The Shadow Workplace Relations Minister, Craig Emerson, told the AMMA forum, a Federal Labor Government would not shy away from restoring the arbitration powers of the AIRC, regardless of the concerns of some industry groups.

But he said the ALP did recognise ‘the imperative of the mining industry to achieve ongoing productivity gains.

‘Our approach to workplace relations, based on cooperation instead of confrontation, will facilitate productive mines and harmonious workplace relations’.

Productivity not industrial activity

Although AMMA CEO Steve Knott welcomed Emerson’s desire to maintain and enhance productivity in the mining industry, he didn’t agree with his other stance on industrial relations.

He said Emerson might think ‘the sky had not fallen in’ when the State Labor Governments enhanced the arbitration powers of their State industrial commissions; but in Western Australia, in particular, the mining industry vacated the State jurisdiction to take up Federal Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA).

The WA mining industry was better able to achieve productivity gains under AWAs than the State system.

Knott said he was aware the ALP didn’t like AWAs, but he wasn’t sure what the ALP’s alternate policy on collective and individual agreement making would be.

He said it was interesting that the ALP wanted to give the AIRC more power to resolve disputes, particularly when it was the ALP who decided in 1992 that the AIRC should have less power.

Fair treatment already in place

In the mining industry, there were already systems to ensure fair treatment and resolve problems at the workplace, Knott said.

Effective, sophisticated human resource management (HRM) and resolution systems existed that didn’t involve the AIRC.

He conceded that, depending on the enterprise issue, the HRM system might not always resolve the problem.

But ‘at the end of the day’ whether the Commission was involved or not the dispute would get resolved either by a strike or a lockout, he claimed.

He was adamant that the AIRC should not run business.

In good faith

Knott agreed good faith bargaining was a must, but it wouldn’t be achieved by a set of codified rules dictating when parties should meet.

Although not familiar with the precise detail of the APL’s Good Faith Bargain Bill (see previous story), he believed that if two parties, who genuinely disagreed, were forced together they might just ‘tick the box’ to say they had met to make it look like they were following the rules, he claimed.

In his speech to the forum, the Minister stated he would examine bargaining rules, Knott said. He said would be interested to see what the Minister had to say about bargaining in the future.

Choosing unions

Emerson’s idea that workers could chose their own union was not a step forward, but counterproductive, Knott claimed.

Mines didn’t want to return to a situation where there were ‘20 or 30 unions’ on site, he said.

Mines wanted the ‘main game’ to enhance productivity and efficiency, not in-fighting.

He wouldn’t be drawn on questions regarding the situation in the Pilbara region concerning Rio Tinto, the Australian Workers Union and other unions.

Fair and workable

Emerson told the AMMA forum the ALP’s proposals to enhance AIRC powers were workable and fair for employers.

‘Like in all human endeavours there must be an arbiter; when a relationship breaks down or disputes arise an independent person can act to restore peace and goodwill.’

A Federal Labor Government would increase the circumstances in which the AIRC could intervene in disputes, he said. The AIRC would have its' independence restored.

The settling of disputes would not be left to market power and coercion, instead ‘reason and merit’ would prevail, Emerson said.

Currently, the AIRC was too often left on the sidelines ‘even though it has all the skills and experience needed to arbitrate over disputes’.

Right to collective agreement

Also underpinning Federal Labor’s industrial relations policy would be the right of workers to a collective agreement.

Under the current Federal Workplace Relations Act, employees had the right to ask for a collective agreement but the employer had the right to refuse.

Under Labor: ‘Once the employees of an enterprise enter into the bargaining process their chosen representative will gain exclusive recognition rights,’ Emerson said.

‘The employer will not be able to push aside or ignore the representative; any agreement made must be made between the employer and the employees’ chosen representatives.’

Collective agreements could be used to unify a business and its workforce, he added.

ALP in good faith

Good faith bargaining was a key element of ALP policy.

A codified set of bargaining rules would be set down to ensure constructive and fair bargaining for everyone, he said.

‘Instead of having parties fighting for days over petty issues of where and when to meet, what is and what is not on the agenda and having one side ignoring the other, the law will ensure that both sides act in an industrially appropriate manner.

‘After all trust and integrity must lie at the core of business relationships, indeed all relationships in our society. There is no case to exclude workplace relations.’

Australian Workplace Agreements

Emerson acknowledged that the mining industry wanted to retain AWAs.

But Federal Labor would be opposing legislation introduced by the Federal Government that strengthened employers’ ability to issue AWAs.

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