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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23302

Mr BARRESI (2:46 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. Would the minister inform the House of efforts by companies such as BHP Billiton to improve the workplace relations conditions of their employees? What obstacles are preventing such progress?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service) —I thank the member for Deakin for his question. One of the major advances in workplace relations in the last eight years in this country has been the introduction of Australian workplace agreements. These are agreements which allow individuals and employers to negotiate deals which best suit their needs. Indeed, at the end of October this year more than 400,000 workers in Australia had entered into Australian workplace agreements. In Western Australia, since April 2002 more than 70,000 Australian workplace agreements have been lodged by employers. It was disappointing, therefore, to learn that the chief of the ACTU, Sharan Burrow, last week complained to the United Nations Global Compact program in Geneva about BHP Billiton's industrial relations practices. Indeed, she set forth the furphy that the Workplace Relations Act, because it enables people—some 400,000 to date—to enter into Australian workplace agreements, is in breach of ILO convention No. 98.

The convention's provisions are about promoting collective bargaining but they are not mandatory and they do not preclude other forms of workplace arrangements such as AWAs. Indeed, this government wholeheartedly supports the right of companies like BHP Billiton and any other employers to offer workers individual agreements. The interference in this regard by the ACTU is just another example of why union membership in the private sector in Australia is now down to 17 per cent. This government will continue to give individuals the freedom to negotiate the best deals that suit their needs.