As part of its submission to the Productivity Commission, BHP Billiton has proposed six reforms, including that strike action be a last resort.
BHP said its small suite of changes would allow employers and employees to work together to support improvements to productivity and competitiveness in the Australian economy.
Two of the reforms are already before parliament and relate to the right of entry provisions and agreement provisions for ‘greenfield’ sites; this relates to the way in which union delegates are able to access mine sites.
BHP is also calling for changes to the Fair Work Act to ensure it only contains enterprise agreement content to terms of employment only and not operational matters that limit productivity improvements.
It also wants to see the act ‘truly supporting’ an employee’s choice of representation and equally enabling both non-union and union streams of enterprise bargaining.
The company’s fifth and sixth reforms centre around strike action. BHP wants greater relief for employers from industrial action to ensure that it is a last resort, and an amendment to Fair Work Act provisions about adverse action to restore the limit on such claims to matters of victimisation due to union membership status or activity.
BHP’s coal president Mike Henry said the changes should be seen as both sensible and realistically achievable.
“We are starting from the perspective that the current framework for the most part is OK; but it has some elements that are unclear, inappropriately applied, or to be frank — pretty unbalanced in our view,” Henry said.
“Collectively they have significant negative impacts for productivity. And that results in negative impacts not just for employers, but also for employees and for the economy.”
He said BHP wanted a workplace relations framework that minimised conflict and disruption, aspects Henry says are missing from the current legislation.
“A good solution would not be to only implement one of two of them because it is as much about how the terms come together, that create the negative dynamic for productivity, as it is about each individual element,” Henry said.
BHP has had a tenuous relationship with unions, the most infamous being its 22-month long battle with the CFMEU at Queensland coal mines.
Henry said BHP was still feeling the effects of the strike action.
"This occurred in the metallurgical coal market in 2012 and we continue to suffer the effects today, with supply from competing countries proving difficult to dislodge, extending the period of low prices,” Henry said.
"Such incidents impede Australia's competitiveness and our reputation as a reliable supplier," he said.
"Customers need reliable and economic supply, so events like this leave Australia vulnerable to losing market share.”