Workplace laws give miners the power

The Federal Government's 600 page workplace bill has pushed the balance of power back into the hands of the workers and unions, a move that could have prevented October's Pilbara strike action, union officials have said.

The Federal Government’s 600 page workplace bill has pushed the balance of power back into the hands of the workers and unions, a move that could have prevented October’s Pilbara strike action, union officials have said.

SA Unions Manager of Industrial Services Angas Story told MINING DAILY that the Government got the basic essentials right.

“On balance we are happy with the bill, happy with a guaranteed safety net of minimum conditions and happy with the re-balancing of fairness and representation at work,” Story said.

“However, we think there is still business that could be done to strengthen the capacity of Fair Work Australia to arbitrate on disputes.

“From the perspective of SA Unions, the Bill introduces a fairly convoluted process by which failed bargaining gets to arbitration. We believe there should be more capacity for the commission to essentially arbitrate without so many restrictions.”

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard’s much anticipated legislation abolishes the Coalition’s Work Choice laws and creates a new regime based on collective bargaining.

Under the new bill, union officials have the right to enter workplaces around the nation, including sites where they have no members.

The package also relaxes rules on outlawing strike pay, allows employer lockouts only in response to strike action and gives the Workplace Minister considerable powers to terminate industrial action or give directions in bargaining disputes.

Secret ballots before legally protected strike action will also require only 26% support to gain approval because only half of eligible employees at a worksite will be required to take part in the ballot.

The CFMEU mining division Western Australia Secretary Gary Wood told MINING DAILY that if the bill had been implemented sooner the Pilbara strike action, the State’s first strike in over a decade, may have been preventable.

“If the laws had been in place earlier, it would have meant that Sam Walsh would have had to come to table and meet with us,” Wood said.

“It would have ended the need to take the protected actions.

“Under this Bill, if a company refuses to meet the scope orders or orders issues, employees and unions have the right to go to arbitration to resolve the issue without getting into disruptions which not only cost the employer but also the employee.”

The Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharon Burrows told MINING DAILY the Bill rewrites the architecture of the industrial relations system.

“Working people will be able to stand together to bargain collectively with their employers, to get a decent set of wages and conditions,” Burrows said.

“This is good for working people and their families, good for the economy and good for future generations.”

The Bill will come into full effect on January 1, 2010.

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