Workers need convincing in Federal IR system push

THE spectacular failure of Rio Tinto’s attempts earlier this year to get its workforce to sign on to a non-union collective Federal agreement has thrown up one interesting lesson – workers need incentives to change their industrial relations arrangements.

IR experts agreed the Rio Tinto move had failed because management did not offer workers an incentive to move over to the new system.

Rio Tinto had considerable success in switching workers at its WA sites over to the old workplace agreements regime in the 1990s.

When it tried to move to the Federal system only the workers at its newly acquired Robe River operation voted in favour.

Management assumed their argument that switching to the Federal system would protect workers’ entitlements created under the workplace agreement system would be convincing. History shows it was not.

Freehills partner Russell Allen said Rio’s move had been unsuccessful because workers had expected more incentive.

“To convince employees to take that step [to switch industrial relations systems] you have to give them some incentive,” he said.

“When Rio asked its workers to switch to workplace agreements there were considerable incentives offered. When BHP asked its workers to switch to workplace agreements a couple of years ago there were cash incentives offered.

“It’s human nature. There has to be some reason for doing what you are being asked to do.”

Office of the Employment Advocate WA regional manager Rod Dewsbury said the un-certainty of change would be a major factor affecting workers’ decisions.

“Workers regard with suspicion anything their employers ask them to do. They are being told to change IR systems and they want to know why. They have to see there is something in it for them,” he said.

Deacons senior associate Leanne Nickels said the Rio Tinto attempt to move into the Federal IR system had allowed unions to gain some footholds.

“When the workplace agreements were introduced they proved to be very favourable

to employees,” she said.

“Those benefits have been eroded over time.”

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