MCA warns against multi-employer bargaining

The Minerals Council of Australia is concerned by reports that the government will hastily incorporate sweeping measures to expand multi-employer bargaining in its Secure Jobs, Better Pay Bill next week.

Reintroducing multi-employer bargaining would be a fundamental departure from nearly 30 years of bipartisan support for enterprise-level bargaining focused on boosting productivity and real wages.

MCA chief executive Tania Constable said legislating this far-reaching change without consultation would repudiate the Prime Minister’s commitment to reinvigorating enterprise bargaining through a new culture of cooperation between businesses and unions based on the common interest.

“The Productivity Commission warned last week that any changes to the Fair Work Act to increase the use of multi-employer and industry/sector wide bargaining are likely to have uncertain implications for productivity… and should be undertaken with caution and be subjected to detailed, rigorous and transparent analysis,” she said.

“The case for extending multi-employer bargaining to high-paying industries like mining has not been made.

“The Productivity Commission has confirmed that the main cause of low wages growth in Australia is low productivity growth, not the distribution of that growth between the capital and labour share.”

Constable said mining employers and employees already bargain successfully at the enterprise level for above-award wages and conditions.

The mining industry pays the highest average wages ($144,000 a year, compared to $95,000 across all industries) and the vast majority of mining workers are full-time (96 per cent) and permanent (88 per cent).

“The sustained increase in the number of highly paid, highly skilled and secure mining jobs over the past 20 years (from 87,800 to 277,600 direct employees) shows that enterprise bargaining is neither broken in the mining industry nor in need of radical surgery,” Constable said.

“Nor can it be argued that wages growth has lagged behind productivity growth in mining. ABS data reveal that while labour productivity in mining declined by 8 per cent between 2000-01 and 2020-21, average weekly earnings for full-time workers grew by 99 per cent.

“Fifty-nine per cent of mining workers are covered by individual agreements on terms and conditions above enterprise agreements. Forty per cent of mining workers are covered by enterprise agreements and only 1 per cent are dependent on awards for their wages and conditions.

“The strong contribution of mining – and opportunities for further minerals development and value-adding – must not be compromised by a reckless return to industrial disruption and wage-price inflation, which characterised industry-wide bargaining in the 1980s.”

Editor of industrial titles and mastheads with Prime Creative Media. Publications include Rail Express and Australian Mining (web content).
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