08/04/2010 - 00:00

Gillard’s flying visit keeps focus on IR

08/04/2010 - 00:00


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DEPUTY Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s whistlestop tour of Western Australia last week returned the political conversation to industrial relations for the first time in several weeks.

DEPUTY Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s whistlestop tour of Western Australia last week returned the political conversation to industrial relations for the first time in several weeks.

Ms Gillard’s visit to a construction site for the Pluto LNG project near Karratha, alongside Woodside boss Don Voelte, offered her the chance to play down union calls that the government had betrayed workers by backing big business.

Mr Voelte has previously called on the government to toughen up laws to prevent illegal strikes, saying the pendulum has swung too far away from the previous governments WorkChoices legislation.

This view was offered again this week by the Australian Mines and Metals Association, which called for a “no-nonsense” approach to illegal strike activity by rogue unionists.

Ms Gillard said the federal government would not tolerate unlawful industrial action.

“They are tough jobs in difficult circumstances but I guess even the very small taste of it we got yesterday has brought home to me the physical nature of the work, the challenging conditions that people work in, the extended time away from home,” she said.

“It is hard work but the way of making sure people are justly rewarded is to use the Fair Work Act bargaining system, and then when you’ve struck a deal you stick to it.”

On Monday, Ms Gillard sent WA CFMEU bosses Joe McDonald and Kevin Reynolds a stern warning to abide by the Fair Work rules, despite plans to shut the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

“There’ll always be a strong cop on the beat when it comes to building and construction,” Ms Gillard said.

There’s been no love lost between the powerful CFMEU and Labor, with Mr McDonald kicked out of the party in 2007 and Mr Reynolds quitting in protest at the treatment of his wife, Shelley Archer, a former state ALP MP.

While in WA, the deputy prime minister took the opportunity to highlight the importance of creating a skilled workforce to service the booming resources industry.

She announced a $50 million package to create 11,000 training places in partnership with industry to meet the demand.

But this is unlikely to placate the fears of business that, having fought a life-and-death struggle for survival in funding Labor at the last federal election, unions now want their dividend.

While tensions flared into strikes late last year and early this year, they have been simmering below the surface in recent weeks as campaigning started in earnest.

Some commentators believe that the unions will keep a low profile until after the election.

Any rise in militancy from workers, be it now or after the election expected later this year, worries business.

At an AMMA member-discussion paper launch this week, the lobby group’s chief executive Steve Knott said the paper targeted rogue unionists and unions that flout the law and are repeat offenders.

“The majority of AMMA members have been operating in modern, productive and dispute-free workplaces. This has been vital in ensuring that not only employers can get on with the job, but so can their highly valued employees,” Mr Knott said in a statement released by the lobby group.

The AMMA discussion paper proposed a range of strategies for consideration to counter the actions certain unions in WA, which the lobby group claims have ignored Australia’s industrial relations laws.

Reforms proposed in the discussion paper include ...

• Before a protected action ballot can be conducted, Fair Work Australia should be satisfied claims being made would not adversely impact on the employer or industry concerned, and also ensure industrial action is a matter of last resort in the negotiation process.

• Unions should be subject to immediate sanction for unlawful industrial action or failure to comply with orders of the FWA or a court.

• Unlawful strike action by a member of a union constitutes a breach by the union unless the union can show it has taken all reasonable steps to prevent the unlawful action.

• Office holders of unions that have been found to have committed serious or repeated breaches the act should be disqualified from holding office.

• Unions being required to report annually on both legal and illegal industrial action taken by members.

• The Fair Work Information Statement required to be provided to employees should include greater details of circumstances in which industrial action can and cannot be taken.

Gold royalties

THE contagious political call for a fair go has spread to the gold industry, which wants the state government to drop plans to increase royalties on the precious metal.

The ‘fair go’ catchcry has been adopted by several WA industries since Premier Colin Barnett used the phrase to enunciate his concern about WA’s diminishing share of GST allocations on a per-capita basis.

Since then, the concept has been adopted across sectors reliant on federal government funding such as the arts and tertiary education.

Most recently the Chamber of Commerce and Industry WA voiced its concern that funding from the federal government’s new Enterprise Based Productivity Places Program would miss the mark in this state, which had above average needs in terms of skills requirements.

But the newly minted Gold Royalties Response Group’s call for a “Fair go for WA’s junior gold miners” has taken the charge in a different direction for other recent holders of the baton.

Instead of demanding Canberra give them a fair go, they are pointing the finger at the state government.

Of course, it could be argued that regional WA was the first to recognise the power of calling for a fair go by electing several Nationals WA members and giving them a balance of power on the basis of their Royalties for Regions policy.

The angry-sounding GRRG warns that the increased royalty will place another burden on the junior gold miners who are not protected by state agreements. These world-leading producers often operate on low margins as the rising cost and risk of mining negates much of the recent price gains.

Among the GRRP signators are Avoca Resources, Catalpa Resources, Crescent Gold, Focus Minerals, Norton Gold Fields, Ramelius Resources, Silverlake Resources and Swan Gold Mining.



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