Last week (Monday 8/2) Australian Resources and Energy Group AMMA appeared before a Senate Committee to further build the case for the important regulatory reforms, as the Morrison Government’s multi-faceted Industrial Relations Bill continues to be put under the microscope.

Presenting on behalf of members across Australia’s national resources and energy industry, AMMA Head of Policy and Public Affairs Tom Reid (pictured) gave evidence to the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee in Townsville.

The hearing is part of committee process as it looks to hand down a report into the Fair Work Amendment (Supporting Australia’s Jobs and Economic Recovery) Bill 2020 by 12 March. 2020. Following an expedited parliamentary process, the Bill is expected to go before both houses for vote in March in order to take effect at around the time the JobKeeper wage subsidy scheme ends (28 March 2021).

Mr Reid detailed why AMMA recommends the Australian Senate pass the Bill in its entirety, which includes many longstanding priority areas for AMMA’s members and included in campaigns guided-by the AMMA Board Reference Group (BRG).

“Most importantly, there is $334 billion worth of investment in the major projects pipeline, resources and energy,” he said.

“Our industry has weathered the COVID-19 storm better than most. By way of this sort of opportunity, employers in our sector are well set now to contribute quite strongly to our postpandemic recovery.

“The IR reform bill will significantly assist our industry in converting these opportunities into reality. In our view, it contains a package of measured, balanced amendments that will reduce compliance costs, risk, red tape, and administrative burden in the IR system.

“This, in turn, will significantly support economic growth and job creation in the post-pandemic environment.”

The appearance before the committee builds on AMMA’s detailed written submission, which highlights how the Bill’s package of measured, balanced amendments will reduce compliance costs, risk, red tape, and administrative burden, assisting the industry in converting these opportunities into reality, and supporting economic growth and job creation in the post-pandemic environment.

AMMA has focused its submission on the three areas of the IR Reform Bill of most interest and relevance to our resources industry members:

  1. Schedule 1 – Casual Employees
    1. A clear definition of casual employment, providing certainty to employers and employees, further balanced with new casual conversion rights.
    2. A mechanism to ensure employees deemed by relevant court determinations to have been misclassified will receive their fair back-paid entitlements, but would not force employers who have already paid a casual loading, to pay twice.
  2. Schedule 3 – Enterprise Agreements
    1. A package of improvements that will reduce complexity, cost and uncertainty, and provide greater discretion and efficiencies to the Fair Work Commission (‘FWC’).
    2. Amendments addressing specific areas of trade union concerns.
  3. Schedule 4 – Greenfields Agreements
    1. Allowing longer Greenfields Agreements terms for major resources and energy projects, up to eight years when agreed by trade unions. Providing industrial certainty and stability for significant nation-building projects.

While containing measures that will support employers, Mr Reid told the Senate Committee that AMMA has great difficulty in understanding why the Bill would be so vehemently opposed by trade unions and the Federal Opposition, given the clear benefits it contains for the 13 million working Australians.

He noted the amendments within the Bill would:

  1. Provide employees with pay rises faster by requiring the FWC to approve enterprise agreements within 21 days;
  2. Massively assist with securing the next wave of resources and energy project investment;
  3. Provide new rights for casual employees to convert to permanent employment;
  4. Introduce criminal penalties and increased civil penalties for wage underpayments;
  5. Provide additional limitations around termination of agreements; and
  6. Abolish all remaining pre-Fair Work industrial instruments in July 2022.

“This well-balanced package of improvements to Australia’s IR framework, is highly favourable to the national interest, and will support employers and employees as we collectively seek to repair the damage to our economy,” Mr Reid said.

AMMA continues working with other business groups to execute a substantial advocacy plan to give the Bill the best chance of passing through the senate and into law.

This involves ongoing engagement with the Senate Crossbench and the Australian Parliament more broadly, to ensure all members fully understand the benefits these reforms will have on the national economy and community.

Fixing enterprise bargaining, ‘project life’ greenfields agreements, restoring certainty to casual employment, and improving the performance of the Fair Work Commission, are four key policy priorities outlined in AMMA’s Pathway to Productivity campaign launched in 2019. You can read the business case for these important IR amendments here.

For more information on the government’s Industrial Relations Bill, any other matters relevant to pending industrial relations changes, or AMMA’s advocacy campaign, contact our policy team via [email protected]