THE Australian Council of Trade Unions is attempting to bring Western Australia’s four major project construction unions together to establish a stable industrial relations environment for the Burrup Peninsula.
Under the agreement the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Australian Workers Union, the Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union and the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union would have representation on a project site but would stick to their areas of coverage.
However, the AWU and the CFMEU have very similar areas of coverage.
Employer groups are heartened by the development but remain sceptical about whether it will succeed, given the bad blood between the unions involved.
State Development Minister Clive Brown is only cautiously optimistic about the success of the ACTU approach.
Industrial relations issues are a major concern for companies considering projects on the Burrup.
ACTU policy coordinator George Wright has been meeting with the heads of the AMWU, the AWU, the CEPU and the CFMEU to try and broker the deal.
He said this agreement was based on the one already in operation at Rio Tinto’s HiSmelt project near Kwinana.
So far, work has progressed there with little trouble. All four unions are involved.
The agreement also includes an ACTU-controlled dispute resolution process to sort out any demarcation disputes that might arise on the projects.
Mr Wright said the AMWU-CFMEU deal was one of the first outcomes from the talks and had been crucial to the ongoing success of the plan.
That deal is understood to be that each union will only sign a project agreement if both the AMWU-CFMEU are party to it.
Adding to the bad blood between the unions is the recent AWU deal with Rio Tinto at Hamersley Iron, which effectively cut the other unions out of coverage there.
Also, much of the industrial action taken at the Woodside LNG Train 4 project earlier this year was the result of a demarcation dispute between the AWU and the CFMEU.
Chamber of Commerce and Industry employee relations director Bruce Williams said the chamber would like to see the arrangement work.
“It would allow employers to make an agreement with a union knowing it would be stuck to,” he said.
“However the unions have made thousands of agreements between themselves over the years and some have lasted longer than others.”
Australian Mines and Metals Association national operations manager John Flood said the ACTU approach was commendable.
“However, we’ve had industrial harmony with the current arrangements on the Burrup,” he said.
There is even scepticism among some of the unions involved with the agreement.
AWU secretary Tim Daly said he was not sure if the deal would get off the ground, given the history between the players.
“There is a desire to see a sensible way of solving some of the disputes that occur between unions,” he said. “But there is also a strong history of distrust between some of the players.”
CEPU secretary Bill Game said the CEPU was never the organisation that became involved in the demarcation disputes. It was always the other three unions.
Mr Brown said the Government, like employers, wanted a stable industrial relations environment in the Pilbara to ensure that WA could attract major projects. However, he said he would wait and see how the ACTU deal panned out.
“I met with George Wright while he was here and told him that the Government was working with all of the Burrup proponents to put WA in the best position to win that work,” Mr Brown said.
“It is important for us to have an IR environment that will help attract that work here.”
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