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Thursday, 1 June 2000
Page: 16799


Mr McARTHUR (9:42 AM) —I think it is important to contrast the difference between pattern bargaining which is being advocated by members opposite and the very successful outcomes that have been achieved under enterprise agreements. I draw the attention of the House to the remarkable breakthrough in the Pilbara region where enterprise agreements were introduced with the Hamersley Iron operation. There was a change in culture, annualised salaries were introduced and that strike-prone region managed to achieve a remarkable improvement in productivity. Personally, I have observed their rail operation and found it to be world-class, because they had brought about a change in the way in which the work force operated, with an emphasis on quality. Members would be aware that the union movement and BHP in that region are in some conflict over enterprise agreements and pattern bargaining. The unions are maintaining their position to have a collective set of arrangements, whereas BHP are trying valiantly to bring about a change of their company operations in that region.

It is interesting to note a comment in an article by Wolfgang Kasper, in the Australian Financial Review of January this year, where he talks about the background of BHP. I quote some of the interesting material in his article:

BHP grew up as a creature of Australia's traditional protectionist and industrial relations culture. The Government granted it a national monopoly for numerous metal products, allowing management to appease unions when they decided to be troublesome.

... ... ...

Australian investors were patient, the Big Australian had the ear of ministers, and good revenues from oil and gas disguised poor returns in traditional parts of the company. A culture that suited management and unions, but did not seek to maximise the wealth of shareholders, got deeply entrenched.

He goes on to talk about the importance of the industrial relations arrangements as they affected the company:

Few industrial communities still practise the wasteful public rituals of collective bargaining in front of quasi-judicial high priests. Workers and plant managers typically seek productivity by collaboration and in competition against similar teams overseas. Work contracts are a matter for private negotiation, and work relationships are conducted as in a functioning, ordinary marriage.

That summarises the position. BHP are moving away from that former culture of pattern bargaining and CEO Paul Anderson is determined to make that fundamental change.

I turn to the very successful outcome for the Ford Motor Company that operates at Geelong and Broadmeadows. That company now has a very high-quality product and exports overseas. Only last night, at a function of the Federal Chamber of Auto Industries, it was stated that the export of automobiles is now worth $3.1 billion. They now compete in quality and price around the world. I had a discussion with the managing director of Ford, Mr Geoff Polites, and he re-emphasised the importance of enterprise agreements in the Ford Motor Company, at both Geelong and Broadmeadows. He indicated that productivity had improved, that quality standards had improved and that Ford were committed to their staff and employees.

It is interesting to note this morning that a member of the AMWU, Mr Ivan Jones, is saying that Ford is a pretty good company to deal with. There has been a dramatic change along the production line. I have been on the site and have noticed a fundamental change of attitude of the workers. They are almost singing on the line, they are keen to see you, and they are concerned about quality and profitability. They do not want pattern bargaining at the Ford Motor Company; they want to get on with the job and they want to improve their performance.

Likewise at Alcoa in Geelong, where the Prime Minister visited in 1995, we see the movement to 12-hour shifts on the pot line, four-day rosters and an involvement of the wives of the work force to bring about enterprise agreements where those workers could concentrate on improvements and quality performance. That kept that plant of the 1960s operating. At Patrick in Melbourne, there has been a dramatic change in the stevedoring operations. I visited the Melbourne dockland just a couple of weeks ago, where we see again the possibility of enterprise agreements, annualised salary, no overtime, no pooling of the work force—which was historically the position—and incentives to work and not get into that overtime situation. The managers are now encouraged to manage, and we are getting remarkable changes in productivity.

That contrasts quite dramatically with the position that the Leader of the Opposition has brought out overnight. I quote from a newspaper cutting this morning—although it is very hard to understand what the Leader of the Opposition is saying. `Beazley aims to win back workers' is the headline. It said yesterday that Australian federal Labor `would not outlaw individual contracts'. But, if you read the fine print, you have some difficulty. The leader says that he would not outlaw individual contracts. The article then goes on to say:

Non-union collective workplace agreements would stay under a Labor government.

`My view on non-union collective workplace agreements is that is all part of choice in the industrial relations system,' Mr Beazley said.

However, the article goes on to say:

The Labor Party had a strong preference for collective agreements.

So in fact they are really supporting the pattern bargaining operation. It goes on to say:

It also strongly supported an independent umpire for industrial relations.

That is bringing a third party in—the very thing that BHP and most bigger companies are moving away from. We have the union movement advocating a set of wages and conditions, we have the employer, and then we have a third party, the Industrial Relations Commission. Mr Beazley is now saying that he wants the `middle way'—whatever that is—and he wants to focus on the big issues.

By the list of speakers we have here today, we can see that the Labor Party are committed to turning back the enterprise agreement culture that Prime Minister Keating so strongly advocated in that famous speech. If you look at the amendments that have been put forward, it is very difficult to understand exactly what they are saying. But let us be quite clear that the Labor Party is moving back to an industrial relations system with collective bargaining by certain members of the union movement that I mentioned last night who want to exercise their industrial muscle, particularly in Victoria, using the age-old attitudes of union power to exercise their position.

I strongly support the Workplace Relations Amendment Bill 2000 before the parliament. It is an attempt to further encourage, entrench and support the position of enterprise agreements, which members opposite supported when they were in government. I commend the legislation wholeheartedly. I only hope that the Democrats will support it—which will further enhance the important industrial relations changes that were introduced by this government in 1996.