Coalition to consider life-of-project enterprise agreements in IR discussions

Enterprise agreements that last for the life of a mining project, regardless of changing economic conditions, are one of the options under consideration as part of the Coalition’s industrial relations changes, Christian Porter has confirmed. .

The attorney general has been tasked with bringing business and union leaders in to discuss changes to Australia’s “clunky” industrial relations system beyond the Covid-19 lockdowns, a move which has been greeted with cautious, if sceptical, optimism, from those involved.

Greenfield mining projects, which include gas, an industry the government is keen to see boosted in the post-lockdown age, are considered a key discussion point. Porter said industrial agreements for the construction projects usually come up for partway through the project, delaying construction and decreasing productivity.

Instead, the government is hoping agreements which stretch for the lifetime of the project will be considered as part of the discussions, even though it strips workers of negotiation powers if economic conditions improve.

“Before the last election, Bill Shorten was countenancing this as a possible policy,” Porter told the ABC’s Insiders program.

“It just makes sense. Particularly as we’re going to rely so much on construction, mining, oil and gas projects to help drive our economy out of the very difficult circumstances we find ourselves in.

“… Whether or not it’s an absolute term-of-project agreement, or whether there’s a cap on it, or whether or not there’s some exceptions to the term-of-life agreement, these are the things we want to talk about.”

Also on the government’s wish list is an end to the “better off overall test”, known as Boot, with Scott Morrison unable to guarantee that no worker will be worse off under any coming changes.

Porter said Boot was one of the issues under consideration, but would not be drawn on whether he wanted it scrapped.

Labor, which does not have an official seat at the working group table, greeted Morrison’s announcement of a working group IR reform process with scepticism, a theme the shadow treasurer, Jim Chalmers, continued on Sunday.

“… These are the same characters who for seven years have been dividing the community,” he said in an interview with Sky News.

“If it if it ends up that there are good outcomes, sensible outcomes to deal with some of these issues, we will support it. But the answer to seven years of insecure work and stagnant wages isn’t more insecurity at work or more downward pressure on wages. We want to make sure that workers have a voice in the industrial relations system and that we get better outcomes going forward than we’ve had in the recent past.”

Porter said he “wouldn’t disagree” with the Australian Council of Trade Unions head Sally McManus’s assertion that workers deserved more of a share of the profits of businesses which were enjoying the spoils of growth, but that the main focus was to “regrow businesses, regrow jobs, save and preserve jobs”.

“Yes, of course, there has to be a proper dialogue and discussion about how you share the wealth of any industry sector, but if an industry sector has been devastated and we as the government can’t find ways to help it, what are we arguing about?” he said.

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