Workplace changes welcomed

TEMPORARY measures are being put in place to allow employers fast-track changes to their workplace arrangements.
Workplace changes welcomed Workplace changes welcomed Workplace changes welcomed Workplace changes welcomed Workplace changes welcomed

Consultation periods for changes to enterprise agreements has been cut from seven days to one.

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Fair Work regulations have been amended to reduce the minimum consultation period for variations to enterprise agreements from seven days to one.

The move is designed to allow rapid changes to be made to workplace agreements to cope with the changes being forced on industry by the COVID-19 crisis.

While the resources industry's industrial relations body the Australian Mines and Metals Association has welcomed the changes, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union is urging caution.

Australian Mines and Metals Association chief executive Steve Knott said seven days was an extraordinarily long time during this unprecedented dual health and economic crisis.

"Over past weeks we have seen a huge level of employer-employee cooperation in implementing changes to workplace practices designed to protect the health and wellbeing of the workforce as well as keep operations and jobs viable," he said.

"While it may come as a surprise to some, employers and employees don't necessarily require union or Fair Work Commission ‘assistance' to respond to the rapidly changing COVID-19 work environment.

"In the overwhelming majority of cases, both employers and employees know what needs to be done and are quickly agreeing on the necessary measures. A seven-day minimum period in which consultation must take place is simply too long.

"The ability to move quickly and effectively can mean the difference between jobs saved and jobs lost. 

"Employees understand that modified roster cycles or working hours during this pandemic period is far more preferable to being stood down without pay or retrenched."

Measures agreed to in the resources and energy industry include changes to rosters and "swing" lengths to minimise movement of people to and from remote sites; temporary changes in working hours to maximise social distancing measures; and matters relating to relocation, taking of leave and working remotely where possible.

While it welcomes the changes to consultation timeframes, AMMA still wants more IR changes made.

"Earlier this month AMMA wrote to the attorney-general and minister for industrial relations [Christian Porter] suggesting a three-to-six month temporary suspension of modern awards and enterprise agreements should be considered," Knott said.

"This would allow businesses relatively unaffected to continue to operate under their existing industrial instruments, but provide immediate relief to any employer facing significant pressures as a result of COVID-19, not just those who can secure agreement with unions and their workforces on changes to enterprise agreements, or those operating under the awards the Fair Work Commission chose to vary.

"There needs to be more trust in business to do what's required and responsible to keep the doors open and save jobs during this crisis; and best position themselves to resume their ordinary pre-COVID operations once we are through this period to the extent possible."

Porter has said he does not support such changes to the award structure at this time.

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union national president Tony Maher claims the provisions introduced by the federal government could tempt mining companies to use the COVID-19 crisis to drive down conditions in the industry.

"These new provisions mean workers will have just 24 hours' notice before voting on a change to their enterprise agreement, which could have long-term impacts on important conditions," he said. 

"Mineworkers are being incredibly cooperative with employers in very difficult and stressful circumstances in order to keep the industry operating. 

"We urge employers not to take advantage of this crisis by using changed workplace laws to undermine the conditions contained in Enterprise Agreements that have been negotiated in good faith by workers.

"The industry needs the goodwill of its workforce now more than ever. 

"For any mineworker who is sprung with a surprise vote on changes to an enterprise agreement, we encourage them to contact the Union and to vote no if they are unsure."

e does not support such changes to the award structure at this time.