By Stephen Mayne, who quit the MEAA and signed a no-strike contract with Rupert on the Herald Sun in 1994

John Howard claims that abandoning AWAs is a “dagger to the throat” of Australia’s resources industry. But there are two commodities that are leading the charge in the great Australian resources boom of 2005-06 – iron ore and coal – and each features starkly different IR arrangements.

True, the iron ore industry in the Pilbara has embraced AWAs, partly because the turf wars between unions led to many frustrating interruptions to the income flows to workers, as Matthew Stevens explains in The Australian today. However, the coal industry is booming just like iron-ore and you don’t see any AWAs in these mines because the CFMEU is strongest in the coal industry where collective agreements prevail.

John Howard is clearly not having a good run with his commercial and political dealings over Woodside Petroleum. First we had the hard yards he put in to get those 25-year LNG contracts signed three years ago – deals which have now cost North West Shelf shareholders billions of dollars because prices have since taken off.

The PM then went to China to greet the first LNG shipment arriving and blundered in claiming Woodside was AWA dependent. The Australian captured the debate with this story and The AFR also carried a page seven lead headlined “Woodside dents PM’s IR attack”.

The senior people at Woodside are an interesting combination. Chairman Charles Goode is a Liberal Party stalwart who chairs one of its Victorian fundraising arms. However, former ALP national secretary Gary Gray is the company’s director of corporate affairs. Was it Gary who created all those headlines today by pointing out that Woodside’s 3,200 permanent staff working on the North West Shelf are on common law contracts, not AWAs?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey