Over the past 20 years physical output per person in the mostly unionised coal mining sector had grown by 2.6% per year, compared with 1.7% per year in iron ore mining, while Western Australian gold, which employed “the most anti-worker employment practices in Australian mining”, saw a productivity decline of 1.7% per year in the same period, CFMEU president Tony Maher said.
“Mining bosses have been at the front of a push to wind back the Fair Work Act and reintroduce individual contracts,” he said.
“They are using productivity as their excuse. But viewing labour market flexibility as the solution to productivity is not only a dangerously narrow view, it’s simply wrong.”
Workforces that collectively bargain have achieved better productivity outcomes and productivity during the WorkChoices period did not flourish, Maher said.
“In fact Australia achieved its highest labour productivity growth of 2.9% per year in the 1970s – a period when IR [industrial relations] laws focused strongly on union collective bargaining and arbitration,” he said.
Labour productivity across the economy grew at an average 2.1% per year during the 1990s, but dropped to 1.3% in the 2000s including during the period of highly individually focused WorkChoices laws.
In mining, jumps in productivity achieved in the 1990s were due to major retrenchments and increases in working hours, especially in the de-unionised metal mining industry where rosters of 14 straight 12 hour days became the norm.
These have had to be wound back as they were unsustainable, according to the CFMEU.
“Unrestrained managerial prerogative does not necessarily result in long-term improvements – quite the opposite,” Maher said.
“Management driven by short-term incentives will often go for the unsustainable quick fix. Workforces that bargain collectively are much more likely to take a long-term view.
“Productivity in mining fluctuates enormously due to many factors. Collective bargaining is just one of them.
“But there is simply no evidence that individual work contracts have produced better productivity outcomes in mining or indeed other sectors of the economy.”