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Unions agree to keep the peace

AN agreement has been struck between the four major project construction unions, the Western Australian Government and the Australian Council of Trade Unions to limit industrial unrest on the $630 million Burrup Fertilisers project.

The Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the Communication Electrical and Plumbing Union, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and the Australian Workers Union have all agreed, in principle, to stick to their areas of coverage.

There is also a process in place to help resolve demarcation disputes without bringing project works to a standstill.

The agreement has been driven by the ACTU, Unions WA and State Development Minister Clive Brown to try and allay fears held by many project proponents.

Burrup Fertilisers’ management has been particularly concerned about the threat of industrial action on its project. If it is completed on time and on budget then the company will consider building an ammonium and urea plant worth a further $1.3 billion.

It is understood the company’s management is happy with the union deal but is waiting to see if it works.

Japan DME, Dampier Nitrogen and GTL Resources also have projects on the drawing board for the peninsula.

It is understood some of these proponents harbour similar industrial relations fears.

Staffers at Mr Brown’s office declined to comment on the agreement.

However, Mr Brown told WA Business News last month he had been working on a framework that both Burrup Fertilisers and the unions could be happy with.

ACTU policy coordinator George Wright said the framework the unions had agreed to put a process for resolving demarcation disputes in place.

This is important, given the long-held animosity between the AWU and the CFMEU, which both hold very similar areas of coverage in project construction.

AWU secretary Tim Daly said he hoped the agreement worked.

“If any of these things are going to work there needs to be an understanding between the unions that if we continue to fight among ourselves we are going to turn the workers off unions,” he said.

Further complicating the issue is the deal between the AMWU and the CFMEU. Under that agreement the AMWU will only sign onto jobs that the CFMEU is party to, and vice versa.

Mr Wright said the AMWU-CFMEU deal had been one of the first outcomes from several months of talks over how the unions could coexist on a project, and had been crucial to the ongoing success of the plan.

The same four unions, along with the Transport Workers Union, are also working on a plan to pool their resources a bit further north of the Burrup, at BHP Billiton’s iron ore projects.

Under that agreement the unions will have a common representative on the BHPB sites and a formal structure on how they will deal with workplace-related issues.

The agreement comes while BHPB is in the throes of negotiating a new enterprise bargaining agreement with its non-individual contract workers.

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