The CFMEU's Stephen Smyth has cautiously welcomed discussions between the unions, business and the government over Industrial Relations reform.
The CFMEU's Stephen Smyth has cautiously welcomed discussions between the unions, business and the government over Industrial Relations reform. Contributed

CQ’s unions appreciate IR discussions but remain sceptical

UNIONS, business and the Federal Government have sat down in good faith to participate in roundtable discussions on reforming Australia's divisive Industrial Relations laws but some of CQ's union leaders remain sceptical.

It comes after the key stakeholders agreed to "put their weapons down" to develop a new consensus on industrial relations reform and reignite the economy, after three ­decades of political deadlock

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said discussions had a "very optimistic start" where "foundationally contentious" matters were approached with a level of "good faith and optimism".

"We're looking at a range of nine problems," he said.

"Problems associated with the definition of 'casual employment' and about people's rights to convert or rights to request conversion to permanent part-time or permanent full-time, and the universality which does not exist with respect to those rights at the moment."

Queensland Branch secretary of the Australian Workers' Union Steve Baker said while the AWU was always open to discussions about improving the conditions of members and intended to ensure members were properly represented, they knew there were no guarantees.

Queensland Branch Secretary of The Australian Workers’ Union Steve Bake. Photographer: Liam Kidston
Queensland Branch Secretary of The Australian Workers’ Union Steve Bake. Photographer: Liam Kidston

"While dumping of the anti-worker ensuring integrity bill is a good step in the right direction, we've seen far too many attacks on working Queenslanders from big business and the LNP government recently not to be sceptical of this process," Mr Baker said.

"The AWU has always and will always put our members interests firsts, and we're prepared to work with employers to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes. However, we'll also never back down from doing what's right for local workers."

"Our first priority is always making sure our members are treated fairly and kept safe at work, and we'll never compromise on that. Any proposal that sees AWU members take a step backwards is not one that we'll be signing up to."

Mr Baker said far too many CQ workers were in jobs with poor wages and little to no job security, and fixing this had to be agenda item number one.

"Making sure we've got well paid, secure local jobs isn't only good for workers, it's good for the entire community," he said.

"This means doing everything we possibly can to keep jobs in the region, introducing better protections for casual and temporary workers, and ensuring that local workers are getting their fair share of company profits."

Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union state secretary Rohan Webb said they welcomed sitting down with the government and employers to discuss how the economy could be rebuilt, with secure jobs as the centrepiece.

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union State Secretary Rohan Webb. (AAP image, John Gass)
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union State Secretary Rohan Webb. (AAP image, John Gass)

"The AMWU is always willing to come to the table with a positive attitude and deliver the best outcomes for working people - that will be our approach to this," Mr Webb said.

"We also welcome the withdrawal of the Ensuring Integrity legislation - a law which unions and many legal experts say was a direct attack on the democratic rights of workers.

"Our Union will take an active role, through the ACTU, in this process. It's important workers are represented in these discussions, because we see all too regularly workers frozen out of discussions between government and employers."

He said it was their hope arrangements were genuinely negotiated in good faith.


"We will be looking for a key commitment to grow secure jobs. This crisis has shown just how precarious the employment is of so many Australians, we cannot simply snap back to insecure, casual or labour hire running rife in our communities," he said.

"Part of a commitment to growing secure jobs means supporting local industry and jobs through government procurement - especially as the global economy will be slower to recover.

"Immediate steps to grow secure jobs should include a qualifying period for casuals to have the right to convert to permanent work after six months of employment."

He said another form of insecure work far too prevalent in Australia was the use of rolling fixed term contracts that deny permanency to workers.

"We are one of the few countries in the world that doesn't limit this practice - we should. We should impose a limit of four contracts or two years' service, whichever comes first, before the employee must be offered permanency," he said.

"A third early step to convert insecure and precarious work into secure jobs is to the expand the coverage of the Fair Work Act to include all workers rather than just employees.

"By regulating work generally, the Act should capture a variety of relationships where workers should have protection and the right to act collectively, and at the same time stop big corporations artificially structuring their workforce to avoid obligations and entitlements."

District CFMEU president Stephen Smyth said they too were receptive of the roundtable discussions, welcoming the fact that working people would have a voice in rebuilding the economy.

District CFMEU president Stephen Smyth
District CFMEU president Stephen Smyth

"Our Union always supports jobs in our industries but job creation initiatives must deliver good, secure jobs with rights and that's what we'll be fighting for," Mr Smyth said.

"This is an opportunity to stamp out once and for all the 'permanent casual' epidemic in the Central Queensland coal industry and to stop big mining companies bypassing their site enterprise agreement to cut wages.

"Let's not forget that wage-cutting strategies by mining companies rip hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity out of central Queensland communities each year.

"Employing people in secure jobs on existing site agreements would be a great way for mining companies to contribute to Australia's economic recovery."

President of the CFMEU Goonyella Riverside Lodge and former Labor candidate for Capricornia Russell Robertson said a discussion to solve this long running battle betweens unions, the government and business was long overdue, especially on the issue of casualisation.

CFMEU’s Russell Robertson
CFMEU’s Russell Robertson

"However I'm concerned at the timing here - this comes just days after an important win for casual workers in the High Court. I don't want to see this process used as a cover to effectively overturn that decision," Mr Robertson said.

"I will be doing everything I can on a personal level to get the best outcome for workers. I would assume all unions will be actively involved.

"While I'm hopeful, the proof will be in the pudding. Is Scott Morrison really willing to abandon decades of entrenched LNP ideology for the sake of common sense? We'll see."

Mr Robertson called for the government to address casualisation by implementing Labor's plan to give casuals options to become permanent workers and end forced fly in fly out to create more job opportunities for Central Queenslanders.

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