Getting back on track

STREAMLINING the industrial relations system and improving the skills of Australia’s workforce are part of prime minister Scott Morrison’s plan to get the country’s economy back up and going after the COVID-19 enforced shutdowns. Mining could be a big winner if that plan comes to pass.
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Scott Morrison speaking at the National Press Club.

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Mining groups have welcomed some of the approaches Morrison has outlined in his speech.

They are particularly keen on the training approaches, the extension of greenfields agreements to cover the entire project term and the plan to bring together industry, unions and workers together to thrash out industrial relations issues.

In an address to the National Press Club Morrison said the training sector had become too complex.

"It is no wonder that when faced with this complexity, many potential students default to the university system, even if their career could be best enhanced through vocational education," Morrison said.

"I want those trade and skills jobs to be aspired to, not looked down upon or seen as a second best option, it is a first best option.

"To address this challenge, we have embarked on a series of Skills Organisation Pilots that are designed to give industry the opportunity to shape the training system to be more responsive to their skills needs and take responsibility for qualification development. 

"Industries defining the quals.
"Three pilots have been established - in human services, digital technologies and mining - and they have already begun to show the benefits of this system. We need to move forward on many, many more."

On the industrial relations front Morrison said he had been heartened by the constructive approach taken by employers, employees, unions and business groups to find practical solutions to keep Australians in jobs.

"We now need to turn that into cooperation to create even more jobs, especially during this all important recovery phase.

"Our current system is not fit-for-purpose, especially given the scale of the jobs challenge that we now face as a nation.

"Our industrial relations system has settled into a complacency of unions seeking marginal benefits and employers closing down risks, often by simply not employing anyone.

"The system has lost sight of its purpose - to get the workplace settings right, so the enterprise, the business can succeed, so everybody can fairly benefit from their efforts and their contributions.

"It is a system that has to date retreated to tribalism, conflict and ideological posturing.

"No one side has all the answers, employees or employers. Unions or employer organisations.

It is not beyond Australians to put aside differences to find cooperative solutions to specific problems, especially at a time like this."

Industrial relations minister Christian Porter is to lead a time-bound process bringing employers, industry groups, employee representatives and government together to try and chart a reform agenda for Australia's IR system.

He will chair five working groups concentrating on award simplification; enterprise agreement making; casuals and fixed-term employee; compliance and enforcement; and compliance and enforcement.

Membership of each group will include employer and union representatives, as well as individuals chosen based on their demonstrated experience and expertise.

Resources sector employer group the Australian Mines and Metals Association has welcomed Morrison's call to bring all the groups together.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said there could only be upside in bringing everyone together to try and find common ground.

"At the end of the day we are all about retaining, improving and creating employment," Knott said.

"In Australia's resources and energy sector, there is an unrelenting drive to retain highly-valued, highly-paid roles and improve existing pay and conditions.

"The industry also is grasping the opportunity of creating as many new jobs as we possibly can, both in post-pandemic recovery and in the long term.

"Reforming greenfields agreements is especially important given there is $100 billion worth of major projects advanced in Australia's investment pipeline. The international competition for this investment capital will be ever fiercer as governments around the world embark on their own stimulus packages."

However, AMMA also wants the government to get rid of 122 modern awards and replacing them with 19 industry minimum wages.

Its Post-Pandemic IR Reform Framework covers three areas of longstanding frustration for the resources and energy industry and the business community more broadly:

  • Agreement making, which it considers to be unnecessarily technical, far too slow and limited in options;
  • The safety net, which it says is the most complex in the world and a source of significant burden and red tape;
  • Risk, cost and uncertainty including casual employment liabilities, uncertainty on personal leave entitlements, and the huge costs of unfair dismissal and "adverse action" laws.

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable said the government's Jobmaker package would support a more productive, competitive and flexible minerals industry that would help the sector maximise its contribution to the nation's economy.

She said the Skills Organisation Pilots would help create jobs and build a modern workforce.

"The Mining Skills Organisation Pilot will include retraining and reskilling entrants in regional and remote Australia and from other industries affected by COVID-19," Constable said.

"As an initial priority the minerals industry will acceleration 1000 new apprenticeships through the pilot, in partnership with the Australian government and in cooperation with the states and the Northern Territory.

"New and innovative skills sets and qualifications linked to technology adoption in the modern mining sector, such as automation and data analytics and will be fast-tracked through the Mining Skills Organisation Pilot.

"For many years the Australian mining industry has been a global leader in the development and deployment of new technology and techniques, including data analytics, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. This leadership will continue in the post pandemic era."

Constable also welcomed the extension of the duration of greenfields agreements to cover the life of projects.

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