‘Crazy’ mining industry campaign – a case of history repeating?

Business unites against 'same job, same pay' plan

Is the mining industry dusting off its greatest hit?

There have been dark mutterings in Canberra for months about the resources sector replicating its deadly $20 million campaign against the Rudd government’s ‘super profits tax‘.

Big business has warned of the ruinous cost of complying with laws forcing it to give equal pay to workers employed through “labour hire” agencies as those employed directly.

So far, only a consultation paper has been released for a ‘Same Job, Same Pay’ bill expected in the spring, and which supports a key promise in Labor’s election manifesto.

But an opening salvo from Minerals Council, a 30-second television slot that began airing on Monday, has drawn comparisons to the mining lobby’s famously hard-edged 2010 campaign.

Opening salvo

“If you work hard because you want better pay, by law you can’t be paid any more than someone who barely works at all,” the spot claims.

The mining lobby claims the changes will deny workers “the opportunity to negotiate more pay for harder work”.

Sally McManus, secretary of the ACTU, has called the ad “crazy” and alleges it is spreading untruths supporting an industry she says is “designed to cut wages”.

The ACTU says labour hire is a $20-billion-a-year business that pays its median worker $4700 a year less.

The broader business lobby is opposed; Jennifer Westacott says there is “no case” for paying labour-hire workers the same as those employed directly.


Mining giant BHP says the laws would cost it $1.3 billion.

Like other major companies such as Qantas, it is supplied labour by its internal labour-hire operations.

A Senate select committee report found that the mining giant created “shelf companies” to act as employers, proposing pay deals between $30,000 and $100,000 less than union agreements.

“We have some that are paid slightly more, and we have some that are paid up to 22 per cent less,” said Warwick Jones, the head of HR at large multinational coal producer Anglo American.

A Mining and Energy Union campaign ad for Labor’s same job, same pay laws.

Dark mutterings

Since last year, there have been dark mutterings about the possibility of just such a campaign.

The industry then warned of two potential provocations that might lead it to mount such a campaign.

One, a move to multi-employer bargaining, which seeks to rebalance enterprise bargaining, takes effect on Tuesday.

The second – a tax on gas – was included in the May budget, though not at near the levels of the “windfall” taxes levied by countries such as Britain (or the one snuffed out over a decade ago).

The government says it will stop workers’ conditions from being undercut in an industry that employs more than 250,000 Australians as their main source of employment, and who are much less likely to have benefits such as paid leave.

The government intends to introduce the legislation in the spring to bring in an objective test to dete­rmine when a worker can be­ classified as casual.

The common law test for casual employment is a job that does not provide a firm advance schedule of working hours or notice of how many hours must be worked.

Reversing a trend of stagnant wages was a promise central to the government’s election platform.

But debate about whether pay rises are mutually exclusive with containing inflation is set to continue on Tuesday when the RBA meets and decides whether to raise interest rates.

At a roundtable in Sydney on Monday, independent MP Allegra Spender said only long-delayed reform of the tax system could drive genuine growth.

“Wage growth in Australia has been too low for too long,” Ms Spender said.

“Our tax system doesn’t promote investment, it doesn’t promote innovation, and it doesn’t promote growth.”
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