NILS study highlights lost opportunities

Enterprise bargaining has so far failed to produce the work practices Australia’s black coal industry needs to achieve international competitiveness, according to a report released in March by the National Institute of Labour Studies.

Staff Reporter

Enterprise bargaining has so far failed to produce the work practices Australia’s black coal industry needs to achieve international competitiveness, according to a report released in March by the National Institute of Labour Studies.

A NILS study found that the Federal Government’s Workplace Relations Act and decisions of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission were conducive to work practice reform, however, the industry had been slow to implement substantial change despite the improved environment.

“With some notable exceptions, the coal industry has not yet grasped the nettle to pursue the work practice changes required to achieve a sustainable basis for competing in the international export market,” said Dr Anne Hawke, senior research fellow at NILS and co-author of the report.

“The industry is currently facing the greatest economic pressures in its history to operate at best-practice levels. Australia’s ability to meet these challenges depends, to a large extent, upon the industry’s preparedness to remove outdated and inefficient work practices.”

Hawke observed that recent decisions made by the AIRC had demonstrated the changes to work practices needed to improve the competitiveness of coal mines were possible within the current industrial relations system.

“Producers can choose their level of inefficiency, but many have not taken up the opportunity to change,” she said.

While accusing producers of not grasping opportunities to push through much-needed changes to work practices, Hawke indicated other parties were also at fault. She did not preclude union intransigence from that assessment. The main conclusions about current work and employment practices in the report included:

* There had been little change in the types of employment allowed.

* Seniority remains the basis for retrenchment.

* Only marginal changes to work shift-time arrangements had been achieved.

* There was little innovation in pay arrangements.

* Change management processes were largely static.

* Multi-skilling of employees was not occurring.

“While some agreements have attempted to alter particular provisions, none of the agreements utilised in this analysis contained comprehensive reforms to working arrangements of the type indicated by the benchmarking studies,” the NILS report said.

“Clearly, although the opportunities currently exist for the removal of restrictive work practices (as evidenced in particular by the Curragh and Moranbah North industrial relations agreements), these opportunities have not been widely adopted throughout the industry.”

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