Since the Federal Government’s Fair Work Act came into effect in 2009, the mining industry has seen a steady increase in industrial activity. This is hardly surprising as the new legislation gives significant new rights to unions and compels mining companies to bargain with unions in most circumstances.
While much of the mining industry has relied on industrial agreements made under the old legislation, 2012 will see many of these agreements nearing their expiry date and a new round of industrial bargaining commence. Most of the major mining houses will be negotiating agreements with unions in 2012 under this new legislation. For this reason, mining companies will need to be well advanced in their planning and implementation of forward industrial strategies.
An example of the challenges of the new bargaining regime is the BMA negotiations which have been ongoing in the Bowen basin coal fields for more than 12 months. These negotiations will continue in to 2012 with a likely coordinated campaign of industrial action across all of the companies coal mines.
In addition to the increase in industrial bargaining throughout the mining industry, 2011 saw the announcement of a large number of new mining projects across all tiers of the sector. These developments are likely to exacerbate the labour shortages already being seen in the boom mining states of Western Australia and Queensland. Initial resourcing strategies have led to an increase in the number of employees commuting from other states and territories and an increase in the use of foreign labour.
Foreign labour will continue to be a contentious issue, with mining unions recently staging protests in Perth in relation to the use of foreign labour by major resources companies operating in Western Australia. The government’s new Enterprise Migration Agreement scheme will be available to larger players in the industry, however these agreements will require detailed consultation with relevant unions at an early stage in the planning process. The current consultation protocols include a requirement for project owners to provide manning plans and other detailed commercial information to unions as part of this initial consultation process. This, combined with the powers provided to industrial organisations under the Fair Work Act, will further feed the strength of mining unions in Australia during 2012.
Finally, the Federal Government has appointed a committee to review the operation of the Fair Work Act. The terms of the review have caused some concern among employers, including those in the mining industry. This review may lead to changes to the legislation—it will be important to monitor those changes and plan for their implementation.