Mining groups reeling after surprise amendments widen industrial relations overhaul

Article by Dan Jervis- Bardy courtesy of the West Australian.

Peak mining groups are reeling after the Albanese Government unveiled surprise amendments to expand its controversial shakeup of industrial relations laws.

In changes which could have big implications for WA, Labor wants to extend the reach of its “same job, same pay” proposal to capture companies in joint ventures.

The amendments to the Closing Loopholes Bill – introduced to Federal Parliament on Tuesday – came as a shock to mining groups which are now scrambling to understand what it means for the industry.

Industry insiders fear the change would allow the Fair Work Commission to issue pay orders not just to a host company – but also their joint venture partner.

Joint ventures are common in WA’s oil and gas industry – with Woodside, Shell, Chevron and Inpex all partnering with other companies on projects.

Minerals Council of Australia chief executive Tania Constable said the proposed change meant unions would be able to target projects without even going after the main partner.

“This expansion (of the Bill) not only locks in the capture of the mining sector, it extends into large-scale oil and gas projects at a time when Australia needs greater energy security,” Ms Constable said.

The amendment has also alarmed the Australian Resources & Energy Employer Association (AREEA), which just last week were praising Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke after he agreed to a deal to exempt service contractors from the “same job, same pay” regime.

AREEA remains pleased with that deal, which bans the Fair Work Commission from issuing orders to businesses that provides a service – rather than labour-hire workers.

“Under these changes, if an application is made against them, service contractors will not have to litigate out of an order. Rather, they will simply have to file a submission to the FWC to assist it in informing its view, as per other functions of the IR system,” AREEA boss Steve Knott said.

The deal has split in the mining sector, with the Minerals Council adamant service contractors will still have to lawyer up to escape the new system.

The West contacted Mr Burke’s office seeking clarity on amendment covering joint ventures but did not receive a response.

In a statement on the broader set of tweaks to the Bill, Mr Burke said the Minerals Council and Business Council would never support the legislation because high-profile members – BHP and Qantas – allegedly used the loopholes it was trying to shut.

“The Closing Loopholes Bill does what it says on the tin – it’s about ensuring we close loopholes that undercut wages, conditions and safety for Australian workers,” Mr Burke said.

The Government on Tuesday also agreed to a deal with the Greens to criminalise the “theft” of superannuation.

The far-reaching Bill already included measures to outlaw wage theft – the practice of bosses not paying their staff the correct amount.

The Greens had been pushing the Government to expand the crackdown to cover the underpayment of superannuation.

The minor party estimates superannuation theft is costing workers at least $3.3b each year, with young, low paid and migrant workers the most at risk.

The Greens also secured amendments to provide more job security for teachers and close a loophole allowing companies to delay enterprise negotiations in the hope removing conditions during arbitration.

“The Greens have won some much needed changes that will lift wages and make it easier for workers to fight for the pay and conditions they deserve,” Greens leader Adam Bandt said.