A GREENS Party bid to block new rules expanding the capacity for third party intervention in damaging strike action has failed after crossbench senators including those of the Palmer United Party voted with the government to dismiss the disallowance motion last week.
The Greens’ motion, raised with the support of the Australian Labor Party, attempted to undo an important change to Australia’s workplace relations system implemented by the Australian Government through a new regulation in June this year.
The new regulation enabled any third party that would be significantly impacted by forthcoming protected industrial action to have their case heard by the Fair Work Commission as part of an application to have the strike action pre-emptively suspended or terminated.
For the resource industry, this important change allowed major project operators to potentially intervene in damaging strike action taking place along its supply chain.
Another significant outcome of the regulation was to enable Western Australia, as the only state which has not yet conferred its private sector industrial relations powers to the Commonwealth, to seek relief from the Fair Work Commission where industrial strike action could financially damage the state economy or local communities.
Speaking against the disallowance motion in the Australian Senate last week, Employment Minister Eric Abetz again used the example of planned strike action by tug boat operators at Port Hedland. This matter was a primary catalyst for the new regulation being implemented mid-year.
“The state government of Western Australia may well have an interest in seeking to avoid industrial action in circumstances where, as has been suggested—and, indeed, threatened—there might be industrial action by about five dozen highly-paid workers at Port Hedland,” Minister Abetz said.
“By striking for just one day, they would deny revenue of royalties from the minerals to be exported of $7 million.
“Additionally, there are other companies involved that, regrettably, have no say in the matter because the head agreement is with another company. As a result, thousands of workers in Western Australia could lose their jobs.”
Speaking in parliament last week, Greens’ senator Janet Rice described the current policy framework as ‘ideological warfare against working people’.
“The Coalition’s change will see a ballooning of litigation before the court by third parties to an industrial dispute—third parties whose main aim is to undermine workers’ rights to collectively bargain,” Senator Rice said.
“It is going to be a lawyer’s picnic and will undermine the important balance between employers and employees when enterprise bargaining.
“It is clearly aimed at strengthening the arm of employer groups who want to undermine union led bargaining.”
The disallowance motion, however, was struck out in a vote of 33 to 32, due to all three PUP Senators joined the Motoring Enthusiast Party’s Ricky Muir, Family First’s Bob Day and Liberal Democratic Party’s David Leyonhjelm to vote with the government against the motion.
Speaking at this year’s International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Melbourne, AMMA chief executive Steve Knott welcomed the vote on behalf of the resource industry, describing it as ‘a very positive outcome for any employer which has been, or could be inadvertently impacted by damaging strikes’.
Click here to read more about Mr Knott’s address to IMARC.