THE Abbott Government’s Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz, used the 2013 AMMA Tasmania Conference to announce important workplace relations measures to support the resource industry, and commended AMMA for its hard lobbying ‘in the national interest’. AMMA CEO Steve Knott wraps it up in this Bulletin editorial.

THE Coalition Government’s Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz, was our special guest at last Friday’s successful 2013 AMMA Tasmania Conference.

Addressing about a hundred AMMA members in his home state, the experienced Senator was quick to commend the alignment of our approach between AMMA and the government in many important policy areas.

“Our agenda is not AMMA’s agenda – our agenda is to serve the national interest. But it is a much welcome and happy stance that AMMA’s agenda has so much overlap with the national interest,” Senator Abetz told our delegates.

AMMA’s major events often see political leaders address our members directly on higher-level policy developments that impact our industry. This direct conduit between resource industry operations and decision makers is one of the key benefits of AMMA membership.

We also can never underestimate the value of taking a moment to join with industry peers, outside of our normal workplaces and our everyday challenges, to have a conversation about issues, both big and small, that our industry deals with on a daily basis.

This is the second year in which we held this conference in Tasmania and it is a tradition we plan on maintaining as AMMA continues to pursue priorities that will ensure our country is a competitive place to invest, employ people and do business.

Workplace relations – while not the only key to unlocking increased competiveness and productivity – certainly has a significant role to play.

In this context, it was fantastic to have the Minister for Employment speak on some very important workplace relations issues that have confronted our national industry for some time.

Right of Entry and Greenfield Agreements

Acknowledging that AMMA has led the national discussion on these matters, Senator Abetz announced that the Coalition will prioritise changes to laws governing union entry to worksites and the negotiation of wages and conditions for new resource projects (‘greenfields’).

Stating the government will return these two critically important policy areas “back to the sensible centre”, the Senator said these changes will be introduced in parliament early next year to support a more competitive national resource industry.

“We will ensure that union right-of-entry protections are sensible and fair, balancing the need for workers to be represented if they wish with the need for workplaces to run without unnecessary disruption,” Senator Abetz told AMMA members in Hobart last week.

“The way that right of entry operates under the Fair Work Act is not balanced and is not based on common sense.

When I hear of one project experiencing 200 union visits in just three months it is clear there are issues with the system that need to be addressed.

“We will also get rid of the changes made by the previous government whilst in its death throes. Let me be clear: we will stop the lunch-room invasion and we will stop the joy rides for union bosses to offshore sites at company expense.”

These changes directly reflect the key lobbying efforts of AMMA across 2013.

The other key area of change outlined by Senator Abetz at AMMA’s Tasmania Conference referred to ‘greenfield’ agreements – the workplace negotiation process for new projects.

This announcement was significant given how we negotiate conditions for new projects is critical for securing jobs and opportunities in this country. It is clear to virtually everyone that the previous government got the policy settings wrong in this area and failed to incentivise resources investment into Australia.

“Unions should not have the power to effectively veto the commencement of new projects or extract exorbitant wages and conditions by refusing to (progress a realistic) a greenfields agreement,” the Senator said.

“We will fix this problem by providing that if negotiations for a greenfields agreement have not been completed within three months then a business will be able to take their proposed agreement to the Fair Work Commission for approval (subject to the ‘Better Off Overall Test’).”

It was highly appropriate that Senator Abetz used an AMMA forum to make significant announcements on these major concerns for our members and the wider resource industry.

We have been at the forefront of calling for changes to greenfield agreements and right of entry laws, as well as several other key policy areas, as part of our wider lobbying to restore balance and sensibility to our national workplace relations system.

Most recently in June 2013, we were unrelenting in our opposition to the former Labor Government’s extension to union site entry laws to allow recruitment meetings in employee lunchrooms and force employers to subsidise the costs for remote site visits.

We believe the government’s policy approach will help ensure not only that resource industry employees remain among Australia’s highest paid, but that new projects can come to market in our country and deliver more jobs.

Following Senator Abetz’s address, we welcomed that the government will prioritise changes in these two critical areas in the new year, and called on all members of Parliament to progress these changes urgently.

After all, injecting more jobs and more investment into our economy is much more important than six months of contrived politicking and brinkmanship, with no regard to the government’s clear mandate to make these changes.

More information

On behalf of the entire AMMA team, I thank the representatives from our member companies who attended our 2013 Tasmania Conference and made this another successful AMMA event.

For those of you in other areas of the country, we look forward to engaging with you at our various AMMA Industry Briefings, held around Australia until the end of the year.

In addition to changes to union site entry laws and greenfield negotiations, you may be interested to read Senator Abetz’s further on legislation introduced to parliament to bring back the ABCC, and the confirmation that the terms of reference for the foreshadowed Productivity Commission review of the wider operation of Fair Work Act will be released in March 2014.

Media coverage from the 2013 AMMA Tasmania Conference can be read here and included ABC Tasmania radio and television, The Mercury, Burnie Advocate, The Australian, The Australian Financial Review and The Age.