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Coal workers threaten strikes

Thursday, 23 February 2012 | 00:00
Workers at the BHP-operated Port Kembla coal terminal are threatening a fresh round of rolling strikes unless the terminal's board of directors gives ground on demands made by the miners' union.
Pacific National Coal yesterday threatened to stand down 108 employees on leave without pay, warning that action by members of the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union had affected its capacity to serve customers and provide work to employees.
The stand-downs were postponed late yesterday when the union called off a 24-hour strike planned for today, saying there had been movement in key areas of dispute. However, the union also notified of extra strikes later this week if the terminal's board did not sign off on the progress made yesterday.
Terminal workers have taken 310 hours of strike action since February 1, and have notified of a further 50 hours between Thursday and Sunday.
Pacific National Coal, which is not involved directly in the dispute, said yesterday it had been unable to unload its coal trains because of the industrial action.
Bob Timbs, the union's district vice-president, said workers had been buoyed by progress made in talks yesterday. "We are hopeful we'll be able to reach a fair outcome on our EBA claims, but that depends on the board endorsing what was discussed in negotiations today," he said.
The terminal is operated by BHP Billiton on behalf of its owners, which include Xstrata. The union is seeking an annual 4.5 per cent pay rise -- the company has offered 4.3 per cent -- and insists the sticking point is on job security.
Meanwhile, incoming Reserve Bank Board member and Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout has called for wide-ranging changes to the workplace laws.
"The unions are calling for more restrictions upon employers, wider arbitration powers for Fair Work Australia and more union powers," she said.
"The experiences of many European nations which have implemented overly restrictive and unaffordable employment conditions highlight the hazards involved in taking this path. It is vital that these claims are rejected. The unions already have far too much power under the act.
"In many ways, the Fair Work bargaining laws have taken us a long way backwards. They are less flexible and unions have much more power in the bargaining process than the laws implemented by the Keating government in 1993-94, when enterprise bargaining was first introduced into the federal workplace relations legislation.
"For example, nowadays unions can bargain and take industrial action over a much wider set of claims and the tribunal has wide powers to make orders during the bargaining process."
The AI Group has surveyed members on the Fair Work Act. Of those employers who had experienced reduced productivity since the act was introduced, 57 per cent said the legislation had been an important factor. Of those employers who are less flexible, 86 per cent said the act had been an important factor.
Source: The Australian
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