BHP calls for workplace reform

BHP Billiton has stepped up calls for reform of Australia’s workplace relations system, with a senior executive labelling current laws “unbalanced”.

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BHP’s president of minerals operations in Australia, Mike Henry, told the Melbourne Mining Club on Thursday that current workplace laws constrain innovation and flexibility.

Mr Henry said the content of enterprise agreements has expanded well beyond the key terms of the relationship between an employer and an employee – those governing wages and benefits.

“The first thing we need is for the content of enterprise agreements to be limited to the key conditions of employment which they were originally intended to cover,” Mr Henry said.

Mr Henry said the number of terms in enterprise agreements required more bargaining time, provided more points for dispute and potential industrial action.

That was not good for the business, workers or the economy.

Mr Henry said that as the contents of enterprise agreements had expanded, inefficient practices had become embedded in the business.

For example, where should a worker start their shift? In the administration office and then spend half an hour getting to their equipment? Or, start the shift where the equipment is located?

Aside from changes to key conditions of employment, Mr Henry said freedom of association provisions and right of entry provisions for union representatives needed to be altered.

He said employers needed greater flexibility in arranging – not blocking – union right-of-entry accesses.

Mr Henry said BHP Billiton was not proposing radical reform but a small set of reasonable, achievable changes already included in its submission to the Productivity Commission.

Mr Henry told reporters that his comments on the need for workplace reform were not related to the pending federal election and were coincidental rather than election advocacy.

“This is something that we’ve been calling for for a long period of time – it was in our submission to the Productivity Commission,” he said.

“But all sides of politics as well as industry need to understand that if we’re going to be competitive and therefore sustainable and able to continue to grow, we can’t do it with the practices of the past.”