Employer association CEO blasts new IR rules

"It's barking mad policy"

Employer association CEO blasts new IR rules

The head of the Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association (AREEA) is blasting the federal government’s industry relations bill, which recently passed through Parliament.

“With rising inflation, electricity costs and interest rates, the last thing businesses need is to be dragged into other companies’ IR disputes via multi-employer bargaining or have the [Fair Work Commission] make their decisions for them,” Steve Knott, CEO of AREEA, told Australian Mining.

The bill has caused consternation among business owners for – among other things – introducing multi-employer bargaining, which allows unions to represent workers from similar industries and negotiate as a single party, Australian Mining said.

“Having a centralised employment tribunal set wages and conditions for private-sector businesses, as it did in the 1970s and 1980s, put simply, is barking mad policy,” Knott said.

He described the change as “a recipe for lower productivity, higher inflation and less competition.” Knott said the move would stifle employment growth and curtail investment and employment opportunities.

Tania Constable, CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, echoed Knott’s sentiments in a statement, saying the new legislation would be a “handbrake” on job opportunities, wage growth and investment.

The reintroduction of multi-employer bargaining into the Australian workplace relations regime will have negative consequences on investment, productivity, economic growth, job security and wages for small or larger businesses across Australia,” she said.

The government’s “same job, same pay” policy for labour hire has also caused uproar among mining businesses, Australian Mining reported. The policy would require uniform wages for hire and client company employees, as well as the reduction of casual hires – all of which has fuelled fears among business owners of increased strikes and unfair employee demands.

Gina Rinehart, executive chair of Hancock Prospecting, told the publication that multi-employer bargaining has no place in the Australian resources industry.

“The mining industry does not fit the profile of an industry where employees are poorly paid,” she said. “On the contrary, if the legislation is applied to the mining industry it will have significant impacts on a high-performing industry.”

BHP chief executive Mike Henry agreed.

“There is simply no case for multi-employer bargaining in the mining industry,” he told Australian Mining. “This is an industry where the current approach has been working well. It’s obviously a very high-paid industry. BHP’s workers would be within the top decile, the top 10%, of wage earners in Australia.”

The bill also made changes on issues including pay secrecy, flexible work hours and fixed-term contracts – which have also incurred the ire of employers.

Knott has called on the government to cooperate if any amendments are made to the legislation in the future.

“The Albanese government will be under constant pressure to ensure adverse predictions don’t come to fruition,” he told Australian Mining. “When they inevitably do, we expect the government to engage in genuine consultation with all its constituents – not just doing the bidding of union bosses – on fixing the mess they would have created. We hope the government will both consult with and properly consider the views of business for the so-called ‘second tranche’ of reforms mooted for 2023.”

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