THE resource industry has voiced its support for a new Coalition government workplace relations amendment bill, introduced into parliament last week, which seeks greater productivity considerations during enterprise bargaining.
The Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill 2014, tabled by Leader of the House Christopher Pyne, would require employers, employees and trade unions to have actively discussed lifting productivity in negotiations toward a new enterprise bargaining agreement.
To ensure this takes place, the Fair Work Commission would need to be satisfied that such discussions have occurred before approving a new EBA. However, the amendments would not require the parties to agree to specific terms or include terms about improving productivity.
To curb rising strike action or threats during bargaining, the bill also outlines a range of pre-requisites trade unions would need to meet before the Fair Work Commission can approve a union’s application for a protected action ballot order. This would include proof that genuine efforts have been made to reach agreement and that progress has been made in negotiations.
Additionally, if the bill is passed, the Fair Work Commission would be precluded from permitting protected industrial action where claims are ‘manifestly excessive’ or may have an adverse impact on productivity.
The resource industry was among many in the business community to welcome the Bill, with Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) chief executive Steve Knott describing the amendments as ‘encouraging.
“It’s widely acknowledged that Australia has a major productivity challenge that is impacting on the competitiveness of our workplaces and our industries,” Mr Knott says.
“Business leadership has an important role to play in addressing this, and employers do not shy away from their responsibility to make their individual enterprises more productive and more competitive.
“However, for too long employers have battled an ineffective and uncompetitive workplace system that creates barriers and distractions to leadership, innovation and productivity.
“This is particularly prevalent where trade unions are involved in bargaining, forcing employers to process a phone book of union claims, effectively excluding any real opportunity to look at ways to improve the competitiveness and productivity of the business.”
Mr Knott also said the added pre-requisites for protected industrial action would help protect both employers and their employees.
“The current system leaves employers under a constant threat of strike action, the impact of which goes well beyond the limited data captured by the ABS and creates industrial uncertainty and very real risks to doing business in Australia,” he said.
“These amendments provide much-needed measures to start reversing the dangerous direction our workplace bargaining system has been heading in over the past five years, and to help sustain our nation’s economic growth, living standards and employment.”
Though none of the three previous workplace relations amendment bills tabled by the Coalition government have passed the Upper House, Mr Knott said lax laws around protected industrial action are a risk to Australia’s competitiveness.
“The resource industry has been one of the key sectors impacted by unions seeking to strike over excessive claims, including the recent case of well-paid Port Hedland tugboat employees threatening to halt $150 million of daily iron ore exports in pursuit of further pay increases,” he said.
“The World Economic Forum rates Australia’s ‘pay and productivity’ at 125th in the world and our ‘co-operation in labour-employer relations’ at 109th in the world. Clearly our nation can no longer afford to pay lip service to productivity or be known as a ‘strike prone’ nation.
“AMMA encourages all parliamentarians, including crossbench senators, to pass this legislation into law and support Australia’s business community in their efforts to increase the productivity and competitiveness of Australian workplaces.”
For more information about the Fair Work Amendment (Bargaining Processes) Bill 2014, click here.