Workplace Relations: The policy principles of the Australian minerals industry

Executive summary

Reform of the Fair Work Act is needed to ensure Australian workplace laws support flexibility, choice and direct employer-employee relationships.

Past workplace reforms were vital to the Australian minerals industry achieving a safer, more harmonious and more productive workplace environment based on a culture of individual enterprise, personal accountability, proper recognition of performance and mutual prosperity. By fostering a more adversarial framework, current workplace laws threaten these achievements.

This Policy Brief outlines the principles endorsed by the Workforce Committee of the Minerals Council of Australia (MCA). It connects these principles to the major policy challenges facing Australia which are to realise the full opportunity of the mining boom and to lift the speed limit of the Australia’s economy.

These principles provide the basis of minerals industry advocacy, notably in the Australian Government’s Review of the Fair Work Act. They start from the recognition that productivity growth (and thus improved living standards) rests on the quality of the direct relationship between the employer and the employee and the effectiveness of that direct engagement in determining terms and conditions of employment to the mutual benefit of all parties. The legal instruments governing workplace arrangements, in whatever form, should support such relationships, not undermine them.

The dividends from flexibility and choice have been demonstrated in the minerals industry over the past two decades. They go beyond economic returns to the development of a modern workplace culture which is conducive to the needs and expectations of individual workers, businesses and the communities in which the minerals industry operates.

The MCA supports a national system of workplace relations that provides for:

  • matters affecting the employment relationship to rest primarily with employers and employees at the enterprise or workplace, for mutually beneficial direct relationships between employers and employees;
  • flexibility and choice in the full range of employment instruments that allow employers and employees to choose the most appropriate form of agreement for their particular circumstances;
  • an economically and socially sustainable safety net;
  • freedom of association – i.e. the right to belong or not to belong to an organisation or association and the right to choose the manner of representation in negotiations;
  • freedom to determine whether or not to collectively bargain and freedom to determine, by mutual agreement, the terms and conditions of employment;
  • flexible mechanisms for the voluntary settlement of disputes;
  • a simplified agreement-making and lodgement process; and
  • reduced prescription and complexity in Awards.

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