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Miners turning to Federal regime

WA mining heavyweights BHP-Billiton, Rio Tinto and WMC are bidding farewell to the State’s industrial relations system and turning Federal.

Indeed, WMC has already made the jump to the Federal sphere, with virtually all of its workforce on Australian Workplace Agreements.

However, one large miner – AngloGold – may have precluded itself from entering the Federal sphere.

WMC corporate affairs general manager David Griffiths said the company went down the AWA route three months ago.

“We’ve had close to a 100 per cent take up across all of our WA sites,” he said.

“We think the WA legislation removes choices from workers.

“All of our guys were on individual contracts. This meant going to them individually. It was more work but it has been a success.”

Rio Tinto is pursuing AWAs for its Hamersley Iron workers. It is understood the Dampier Salt operation is also pursuing the Federal individual agreements and Argyle Diamond Mine is considering its options.

The company’s Robe River Iron Ore employees agreed to take on a Federal non-union collective agreement earlier this year.

Indeed, it was the choice of the non-union collective agreement – or 170LKs – which caused the company so many problems earlier this year.

A Hamersley Iron spokesman admitted the 170LK had been a bad option.

“We thought that was the closest option to our current workplace agreement. However, to do that we needed to get 50 per cent plus one from the workforce to agree to do it,” the Hamersley Iron spokesman said.

Under a 170LK, if the required number of workers agree, all other workers are drawn into the agreement.

“Our workers told us they didn’t want to do that,” the spokesman said.

“However, we decided it was the best way to go because we didn’t want to end up with a workforce split between the State system and the Federal system.

“Now we’re rolling out the offer of AWAs. We thought that in order to maintain a direct relationship with our workforce then this was the only way to go.”

BHP-Billiton spokesman John Crowley said the company began rolling out its AWA offers three weeks ago.

About 55 per cent of its WA workforce is already on the soon to be defunct workplace agreements.

“We’re targeting those workers who are already on workplace agreements. It seems to have been well accepted and we’ve even had some interest from our employees who are currently on the award-based system,” Mr Crowley said.

“The feedback we’re getting is that those workers that were on them enjoyed workplace agreements. This is something we’ve been working on internally for three years.”

Rumours abound that BHP-Billiton has sought the advice of eastern States-based corporate change guru Ian Robertson. Mr Robertson was involved with some staff restructuring work at BankWest and was in Perth last week.

Mr Crowley said BHP-B had made a decision to seek internal relations advice from an eastern States source was mainly because the company’s WA corporate relations team was understaffed.

However, he did not say whether Mr Robertson had been providing that advice.

Despite the Federal moves of major resource players, one large WA miner, AngloGold, which operates the Sunrise Dam mine and a host of exploration tenements, may have signed itself out of the AWA race.

AngloGold recently signed an agreement with the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions to promote freedom of association.

Minter Ellison industrial relations partner Andrew Burnett said two of the clauses in the agreement would prevent AngloGold from taking on AWAs because they ran foul of international freedom of association rules.

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