In an address to the recent 2014 International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne, AMMA chief executive Steve Knott called for a collaborative approach between the Australian Government and the resource industry to address pressing productivity and competitiveness challenges through workplace relations reform.

Combining research with feedback from AMMA members, Mr Knott said workplace relations reform was at the cornerstone of a sustainable resource industry future, particularly in terms of jobs growth and potential skills shortages.

“In the five years to 2013, our direct workforce doubled to about 270,000. The Reserve Bank has estimated the total flow-on employment effects of our sector accounts for about 1.1 million jobs in Australia,” Mr Knott said.

“After this phenomenal growth period, our industry’s transition from the price and construction booms into a long-term production phase creates very complex workforce challenges for our industry.”

Mr Knott pointed to statistics from the Australian Workplace Productivity Agency, now part of the Department of Industry, showing declines in construction jobs over the coming years, driven by a decline in capital investment which must addressed.

“AMMA has long argued that if the Australian Government is to deliver a policy framework that supports employers to innovate, create efficiencies and compete globally, the starting point must be industrial relations,” he said.

“For the third year in a row, restrictive labour regulation was singled out by resource employers as the most problematic factor for doing business in Australia, in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Competitiveness Report for 2014-15.”

With this in mind, Mr Knott welcomed the recent decision of crossbench Senators to vote down a disallowance motion which hoped to block third party intervention against damaging industrial strikes.

“For employers such as large resource companies, which rely heavily on operational continuity and stability, the federal government’s changes help discourage militant unions from holding millions of dollars in revenues to ransom by targeting small employers along the commodity supply chain,” he said.

“Given project operators are often most impacted by such strike action, it is a no brainer that organisations, which employ thousands of people and are responsible for billions of investment dollars in our country, should be able to state their case before Australia’s workplace tribunal.

“The defeat of the Greens’ disallowance motion was a very positive outcome for any employer which has been, or could be inadvertently impacted by damaging strikes in areas of the supply chain in which it has no control.”

In his speech, Mr Knott outlined the six priority areas of workplace reform as identified by resource industry employers, including restoring the rules of unions entering workplaces to the pre-2009 model and creating a process for new project agreement making that encourages and supports future project investment.

With the government’s Fair Work Amendment Bill 2014 already addressing these two important issues, but currently stalled in the Upper House, the AMMA chief called on the crossbench Senators to now support the urgent passing of these amendments.

“These are modest changes but address specific workplace issues that have impacted competitiveness and productivity in resource industry operations,” Mr Knott said.

“In a highly globally exposed industry, such ineffective, uncompetitive domestic policies create real barriers and distractions away from leadership and innovation.

“We must not rest on our laurels while there is more investment capital out there that will fuel our next wave of resource projects, bringing further jobs and economic value to this country.”

For a copy of Mr Knott’s speech, click here.