08/03/2005 - 21:00

Premier fits formula

08/03/2005 - 21:00

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There is a simple and fairly reliable formula for finding industrial disputes in Western Australia.

Premier fits formula

There is a simple and fairly reliable formula for finding industrial disputes in Western Australia.

Put together a big industrial or building project with the construction union (CFMEU), the manufacturing workers (AMWU) or electricians (CEPU) and there is a good chance you will find an industrial dispute.

This pattern applies across the state.

In the Pilbara, the Burrup Fertilisers project, the Dampier port upgrade and the Yandi iron ore expansion have been affected by strike action in recent months.

In the South West the expansion of the Pinjarra and Worsley alumina refineries, the upgrade of the Collie power station and currently Wesfarmers’ Premier Coal business have been hit.

The CBD rail tunnel and Rio Tino’s Hismelt project in Kwinana are other high-profile scenes of industrial strife.

This pattern of industrial dispute means the vast majority of Western Australian businesses have been unaffected by the surge in industrial action over the past two years.

Instead, the unions are targeting big employers with deep pockets and, in light of the current resources boom and runaway demand for mineral commodities, a keen desire to quickly complete their projects.

UnionsWA secretary Dave Robinson believes the current level of industrial disputation also reflects the tight labour market, as evidenced by low unemployment, and the skills shortage.

“That will inevitably mean workers treat their commodity like any other commodity,” he said.

“It is not surprising in many ways that there will be increased disputation.”

The ongoing dispute at Premier Coal has not made the headlines like other recent cases but it illustrates many of the current problems. The dispute pits the AMWU against a company that is seeking major productivity and efficiency gains.

Negotiations over a new ‘certified agreement’ commenced more than 18 months ago, in August 2003, and since then the company says it has lost about a month of production due to strike action.

Premier reached agreement with its mining workforce late last year but is still in dispute with its maintenance workers, who recently commenced their fifth industrial stoppage.

“We are very disappointed and are currently considering our options,” Premier Coal managing director Stewart Butel said.

He says the company needs to become more efficient so that coal remains competitive as a fuel source.

It wants all maintenance staff to go onto a four-days-on, four-days-off roster, which is already used by the miners.

Premier also wants to be able to use contract staff, so that it has more flexibility and better access to specialist skills.

Mr Butel says the union is “just resisting change”.

“They don’t want to change rosters, they want more money and they want to control contractors,” he said.

The Premier dispute also illustrates the issue of ‘jurisdiction swapping’, practised by both employers and unions.

In this case, the AMWU opted out of the state system, under the Coal Industry Tribunal, to the federal system, which provides for ‘protected’ industrial action.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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