Filed under: News

Coal class action on solid ground

LAW firm Chamberlains says its proposed casual mineworker class action is a genuine attempt to right a wrong in the coal industry, and not an effort to pressure money out of mining companies.

As reported on Friday, the Canberra law firm has been working with an injured former Mount Arthur mineworker, Simon Turner, and intends lodging a class action in the Federal Court over the use of casual labour at the BHP mine. Labour hire firms Chandler Macleod and Tesa are also named.

Mining sources downplayed the importance of the case, saying the firm was simply seeking free publicity with its claims.

Despite this, neither BHP nor the Minerals Council of NSW was prepared to comment on the validity of the law firm’s main claim – that enterprise agreements using casual employment are illegal because they conflict with the award, which recognises only full-time and part-time (but not casual) employment.Continue reading

Filed under: News

‘Some time’ before inflation, jobs reach their targets: RBA

The Reserve Bank of Australia said the economy was some way off full employment and inflation returning to the midpoint of its target, signalling policy will stay on hold.

Main takeaways

  • Reserve Bank of Australia leaves inflation and economic growth forecasts unchanged from three months earlier in quarterly Statement on Monetary Policy released on Friday
  • Forecast unemployment cut to 5.25 per cent for year ending June 2018 through to year ending June 2019, from 5.5 per cent seen three months earlier
  • Near-term growth outlook for major trading partners “is a little stronger” than seen in November; growth in China expected to “moderate a little” over coming year
  • Most of decline in mining investment has now passed, meaning resource sector should make positive contribution to GDP over next few years
  • Large pipeline of public infrastructure work to be done is supporting GDP growth as well as conditions in some parts of the private sector
  • Australian dollar bought 77.72 US cents at 11.40am in Sydney, from 77.85 US cents before the report’s release.

Continue reading

Filed under: News

Defence deal struck for Australian steel

Australian steel is tipped to play a key role in the country’s fledgling defence exports industry, with a deal being signed in the Illawarra region of NSW.

German defence technology firm Rheinmetall will team up with Bluescope Steel, which operates the Port Kembla steel works, to create a new military vehicle.

The armoured vehicles will be developed at a new “centre of excellence” west of Brisbane and if successful, will be sourced from 100 per cent Australian steel.

The first shipping of 15 tonnes of steel is bound for Germany for testing.

Rheinmetall director of strategy Tim Pickford said if successful, Bluescope would be the only supplier in the Southern Hemisphere to meet the “stringent” standards.

“There are only two companies in the world that we go to for high-hardness armour,” Mr Pickford said.

“We’ve continued to be nothing but impressed with the capability here in the Illawarra region, it’s a world beater.

“One of the problems is that because manufacturing’s kind of a dirty word at the moment, we don’t believe in ourselves, but I think the Australian steel team will put this place back on the map.”

Plans for a global military vehicle export hub

Mr Pickford said the plan was to supply the vehicles to the Australian Defence Force and for export.

“Europe is big for us, but let’s not forget South East Asia and what’s going on down here, and the requirement for renewal of military capabilities for this region,” he said.

“What we see Australia representing is a hub for export to not only this region but globally as well.”

The Port Kembla steel works has seen a significant turnaround since it was facing potential closure in 2015, and the new deal was being hailed as a long-term boost.

Bluescope Steel spokesman Troy Gent said it would help shore up local manufacturing jobs.

“We’ve been on a long road to make ourselves cost competitive,” Mr Gent said.

“We’ve taken huge costs out of the mill, and doing what we’ve done over the last three or four years has enabled us to compete in a space like this.”

Technology could have spin-offs: analyst

It came as the Federal Government embarks on an ambitious plan to make Australia among the top 10 defence exporters in the world.

Commodities analyst Peter Strachan said while he did not agree with the Government’s defence exports plan, the use of Australian steel in defence technology would bring wide-ranging benefits.

“It’s an area where there could be spinoffs in the technology to use the technology that’s developed for military hardware to actually do things that might be a little bit more sustainable,” Mr Strachan said.

“We used to have a proper steel industry in Australia from go and woe, but at the moment it’s more to do with specialty steel.

“It’s a shame that we have to be involved in military hardware, I’d rather be using our technology to build wind turbines or something that’s going to be sustainable long-term.”

Source (ABC): Defence deal struck for Australian steel

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‘Worst retail environment ever’: Textile Traders moves online

Textile Traders, the fabric and sewing business that has been a household name in Western Australia for more than three decades, is closing its bricks and mortar locations, blaming the “worst retail environment the business has experienced”.

“The decision has been made to exit the retail stores and move to an online retail model. A full retail store closure is aimed for August 2018 and Textile Traders will work with landlords to exit these premises,” the company said in a statement.

“The family-owned business has 11 WA stores, a national online website and employs about 70 employees in its retail stores, including full-timers, part-timers and casuals,” it said in a statement.

“The hardest part of the process will be saying goodbye to many long-term and loyal team members that have become like family. The business will work with and support team members during this transition period.”

Many Western Australians will remember the advertisements, with their jingle “Hey, come in and save, Textile Traders,” and their appearances from managing director Benny Reuben, who showed a surely genuine passion for his trade, and spun lovable puns such as “upholstery? We’ve got you covered!”

Textile Traders has been a fixture of Perth's retail scene.
Textile Traders has been a fixture of Perth’s retail scene. Photo: Textile Traders

And when this journalist needed 40 metres of red velvet for her wedding (don’t ask) it was Textile Traders, Victoria Park, who offered a much-needed discount.

“Textile Traders has been an important part of Western Australia’s retail scene over its life and this difficult decision has not been made lightly,” the company’s statement said.

Consequently, the move to a more cost effective and nimble online model is the right decision in order to keep in advance of the retail curve.”

Textile Traders will continue to sell its fabrics, craft supplies, sewing machines and home decorator products at

Source (The Age): ‘Worst retail environment ever’: Textile Traders moves online

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RBA governor rules out interest rate hikes until wages rise

The Reserve Bank governor has dismissed any chance of a rate hike any time soon, after a week of financial turmoil sparked by fears of rapidly rising inflation and interest rates in the United States.

Philip Lowe said the recent market volatility would not have any impact on the growth outlook for Australia, which remains at “a bit above 3 per cent over the next couple of years”.

But he also intensified his calls for higher wages to help boost the Australian economy.

Dr Lowe told a room of leading business figures that although “it is likely that the next move in interest rates in Australia will be up, not down”, the RBA “does not see a strong case for a near-term adjustment in monetary policy”.

The United States is expected to raise interest rates again next month, but the Governor says rates in Australia do not need to “move in lock-step”.

He argued circumstances in Australia were very different.

“We are still some way from what could be considered full employment, and our central scenario for inflation is for it to remain below the midpoint of the medium-term target range for the next couple of years,” he said.

Once again, Dr Lowe zeroed in on Australia’s historically low rates of wages growth.

He was very clear that bigger pay increases were needed to help the economy, saying “some pick-up in wage growth would be a welcome development”.

“Indeed, a lift in wage growth is likely to be necessary for inflation to average around the midpoint of the 2-3 per cent medium-term inflation target,” he said.

He dismissed arguments higher wages were only possible if there was an associated lift in productivity.

“Even if productivity growth were to be around the average of recent years, a faster rate of wage increase should be possible,” he said.

He said higher wages would help contain the dangers of ballooning household debt, which recently soared to 200 per cent of income.

“The slow growth in incomes has weighed on spending, including by making it harder for some households to pay down their debts,” he said.

He also made the point that higher wages would make Australia a fairer place.

“Stronger growth in real wages would also boost household incomes and create a stronger sense of shared prosperity,” he said.

Dr Lowe highlighted the need to return to a federal surplus to build a buffer to deal with a future economic shock.

“Ensuring that our public finances are on a sustainable footing is important to ensuring that we have similar flexibility in the future,” he said.

But he refused to buy into the corporate tax debate.

“The issue of how the tax system affects the competitiveness of Australia as a destination for investment is one of ongoing political debate,” he said.

Source (ABC): RBA governor rules out interest rate hikes until wages rise

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Teachers, paramedics eye crack in ‘unfair, discriminatory’ salary cap after train offer

NSW public servants are seeing an opportunity to overturn the long-running pay-rise cap on salaries as the Government gives rail workers a better offer.

Last night, the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) was offered a deal, including a 3 per cent annual pay rise over three years, to take to their members to consider.

The RTBU’s memo to its members said the offer amounted to 4 per cent per year increase when benefits including travel passes and a $1,000 one-off sign-on bonus were taken into account.

This blows open a public service cap on pay rises at 2.5 per cent, which has been in effect since Barry O’Farrell was premier in 2011.

At the time there were mass protests with public service workers’ unions united in their opposition to the pay-rise cap.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the pay-rise deal with rail workers was not a break with Government policy, and rail workers would also have to give up some benefits if they agreed to the deal.

“I want to be clear really clear about this,” Ms Berejiklian said.

“The Government’s wages policy says you have 2.5 per cent, but if you have any class of employees that want more than that, they have to give things up, and that’s what’s happened in this case.”

The Premier also hinted job cuts were being considered.

A ‘welcome breakthrough’ for other sectors

NSW Teachers Federation president Maurie Mulheron said the offer was a “welcome breakthrough” for public sector workers.

“The public-sector wage cap has been repressive and has unfairly hit public sector workers across New South Wales, including teachers,” Mr Mulheron said.

He said public sector workers provide vital services and should not be bound by an “artificial” cap.

“It’s unfair and its discriminatory,” he said.

“Teachers and other essential workers right across this state deserve a salary increase.

“They are being priced out of the Sydney housing market and it has enormous implications for trying to recruit young people into teaching and it has to change.”

He said the Federation would push for changes ahead of the next state election.

“The salary wage cap should be removed and public sector unions should be given the opportunity to make a case out to both the employer and if necessary the Industrial Relations Commission to argue the value of their work, and the changing and improving value of their work,” he said.

Australian Paramedics Association NSW secretary Steve Pearce also said the offer was a win for people employed in the State Government sector.

“If taken up it’s a great victory for the train drivers, they face very similar issues that our paramedics do — forced overtime and there is just not enough of them,” he said.

Mr Pearce said paramedics, like train drivers and teachers, wanted to see the capped removed.

“If the NSW Government can see fit on one hand to break this legislative wage cap for a group of workers, then it’s quite galling for our members to look at the fact that they will be penny pinching,” he said.

“There should be an open and free ability to negotiate work value, and legislating a wage cap is certainly not in the spirit of that,” he said.

Source (ABC): Teachers, paramedics eye crack in ‘unfair, discriminatory’ salary cap after train offer

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Labor devising Queensland ‘rescue’ package ahead of likely decision to reject Adani

“Don’t send missives off 2000 kilometres away from where this mine is [proposed], telling us all we can’t have jobs, we can’t have economic opportunity”.

Labor appears set to oppose the project, but it is understood there is broad concern among MPs about how to assuage Queensland constituents concerned about high unemployment.

A senior Labor source told Fairfax Media that Labor was “developing a plan for central and North Queensland [to support] their economic future”.

Another Labor source said the plan had been in development for some time.

“I certainly think there is a thirst out there for people to hear alternatives to Adani, and if Labor is at the forefront of proposing them then I think that is solid electoral ground for us,” the source said.

A Queensland Labor MP told Fairfax Media that jobs in renewable energy, manufacturing, defence maintenance and tourism could be created in place of the foregone mining jobs.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan has accused Labor of selling out jobs in Queensland.

Resources Minister Matt Canavan has accused Labor of selling out jobs in Queensland.

Speaking on ABC Radio on Tuesday, deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek emphasised that her party “[does] need to have an answer for the people of northern Queensland and central Queensland about the sort of jobs they’ll be doing and their kids will be doing in the future.”

Labor last month announced that, should it form government, it would establish a local advisory panel to advise on a $1 billion Northern Australia Tourism Infrastructure Fund.

The money would help build new tourism infrastructure in Northern Australia, including Queensland.

Labor is also understood to be considering ways it could halt the Adani project should it win government – and how to address the issues of sovereign risk and a future compensation claim from Adani if approvals were overturned.

The mine has won state and federal environmental approvals. However mechanisms being considered by Labor include section 145 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, which allows federal approvals to be revoked.

Environmental Justice Australia has said the government could use that power by arguing new information had arisen about the mine’s impact on climate change and damage to the Great Barrier Reef.

A senior Labor source said various legal avenues were being considered and “people are very cognisant of the compensation and sovereign risk issues.”

Source: Labor devising Queensland ‘rescue’ package ahead of likely decision to reject Adani

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Big business rejects Japanese model of linking corporate tax cuts to guaranteed wage rises

The Turnbull government wants to cut the corporate tax rate from 30 per cent to 25 per cent across the board but so the Senate has only agreed to cut the rate for businesses with a yearly turnover of up to $50 million.

Labor is staunchly opposed to the plan, which the Turnbull government hopes will restore its political fortunes while also stimulating the economy.

If the government’s package was to somehow guarantee wages growth it could potentially shift the votes of some on the Senate crossbench. It could also help win over the public, which polling shows is deeply sceptical of the cuts.

But Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said the idea was unworkable.

“It’s important that individual firms be able to make the decision that suits them best, in terms of what to do with the money. Each firm will be best-placed to judge how best to invest in its future earning potential,” he said.

“More often than not, that involves investing in people. They could hire more people, invest in better training for their people. Or they could pay higher wages, particularly if they want to hold on to good staff at a time when labor is in higher demand.”

Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said the tax cuts would already lead to wages growth.

“Regulating wage increases without lifting productivity and increasing economic activity would see businesses creating fewer new jobs or increasing prices as they try to remain competitive,” she said.

Japanese Prime Minister has proposed linking lower company taxes with higher wages.
Japanese Prime Minister has proposed linking lower company taxes with higher wages. Photo: Akio Kon

Mr Morrison did not explicitly rule out looking at the idea when asked about it on Tuesday but made it clear he is not enthusiastic: “That’s a highly regulated approach to doing it.” He points out major companies in the US like Walmart are already promising to raise wages and delivering bonuses to workers in response to US President Donald Trump’s huge corporate tax cuts, without the need for any explicit guarantees.

Economist David Bassanese agreed the Japanese model was “probably a little too interventionist for our economy”.

“It sounds good in theory but would be very hard to implement in practice,” he said. “To mechanically link one to the other would be quite messy. The best solution really is to just have a stronger economy.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Tuesday signalled Labor would not reconsider its staunch opposition to the government’s cuts, dismissing the idea of a new government-business accord.

“Pigs might fly,” Mr Shorten said. “The idea that when you see large companies getting tax windfalls from their friends in the Turnbull government that they are miraculously going to share this largesse with the workers of Australia — I am sorry, but that fairytale does not have a happy ending.”

ACTU president Sally McManus has also taken up the fight for wages growth but argues the tax cuts will not deliver it. In a speech to the the Association of Industrial Relations Academics of Australia and New Zealand on Wednesday, Ms McManus will argue the country’s workplace laws are holding back wages.

Source: Big business rejects Japanese model of linking corporate tax cuts to guaranteed wage rises

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Turnbull won’t police sex between politicians and staffers

Banning sex between politicians and their staff should not be necessary, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has declared, in response to a call for formal rules to be introduced.

Key points:

  • It was revealed earlier this week Barnaby Joyce is expecting a baby with his former press secretary
  • Independent Cathy McGowan yesterday suggested rules around sex between politicians and staff should be considered
  • PM says it should be personal responsibility of each politician to conduct relationships with respect

Independent MP Cathy McGowan suggested yesterday that a conversation should begin around the need for rules about relationships between MPs and their staff members.

The debate erupted after the revelation Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was in a new relationship with his former press secretary and was expecting a baby.

His wife, Natalie Joyce, responded to the news by saying the situation was “devastating” for her and the four daughters.

The Prime Minister said this morning that such private matters were always very distressing for those involved.

“I don’t want to add to the public discussion about it. I am very conscious of the distress this causes to others, in particular Natalie Joyce and her and Barnaby’s daughters,” Mr Turnbull said.

When asked if a ban on sex between politicians and staff should be considered, Mr Turnbull said relations between consenting adults were “not normally something you would be justified in seeking to regulate”.

But he emphasised the need for personal responsibility.

“Adults, particularly elected officials, Members of Parliament, ministers, all have to be accountable for their actions,” Mr Turnbull said.

“Adults can conduct their relationships, if it is consensual, if it is respectful that is their right.

“But all of us have to be accountable for how we live our lives. And Barnaby has been accountable … he has been very upfront about it.”

The Prime Minister referred to Mr Joyce’s appearance on 7.30 the day the story broke, where he described the breakdown of his marriage as “one of the greatest failures of my life”.

Mr Turnbull refused to discuss Mr Joyce’s situation, saying he and his wife Lucy Turnbull were “very conscious of the hurt occasioned to Natalie and their daughters in particular”.

“So that is why I don’t want to contribute to the discussion about it,” he said.

Source (ABC): Turnbull won’t police sex between politicians and staffers

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Linc Energy workers told to drink milk and eat yogurt to avoid acid burns, court told

Workers at an underground coal gasification plant on Queensland’s Western Darling Downs were told to drink milk and eat yoghurt to protect their stomachs from acid, a court has heard.

The gas company has pleaded not guilty to five counts of causing serious environmental harm from its underground coal gasification operations between 2007 and 2013 in Chinchilla.

The corporation is not defending itself as it is in liquidation so there is no-one in the dock or at the bar table representing the defence.

A witness statement by former gas operator Timothy Ford was read to the court, which he prepared in 2015 before his death.

The court was not told how Mr Ford died.

He said the gas burnt his eyes and nose and he would need to leave the plant after work to get fresh air because it made him feel sick.

“We were told to drink milk in the mornings and at the start of shift… we were also told to eat yoghurt,” he said.

“The purpose of this was to line our guts so the acid wouldn’t burn our guts.

“We were not allowed to drink the tank water and were given bottled water.”

Mr Ford said he always felt lethargic, suffered infections and had shortness of breath.

“During my time at the Linc site, would be the sickest I have been,” he said.

“It is my belief that workplace was causing my sickness.

“I strongly feel that the Linc site was not being run properly due to failures of the wells and gas releases.”

Former manager told company to shut down plant

A former project manager at the UCG plant, Mariano Minotti, told the court he repeatedly warned the gas company in 2007 that the site should be shut down to avoid contamination.

He told the court he warned senior management, including CEO Peter Bond, on several occasions that gas was escaping from the site and potentially causing damage.

In October 2007 Mr Minotti sent an email to Mr Bond recommending the site be shut down.

“We know for sure that the cement and/or the procedure used for the cementation of the five wells was not done properly or at least not properly considering our gas composition, temperatures and pressures,” he wrote.

“When we started working at high pressure the air/gas started to escape through the cement and the casing, finding its way into the overburden and into a salty aquifer.

“My plan of attack… shut down the site immediately as suggested three weeks ago to avoid further corrosion, contamination, if any, of groundwater and potential accident.”

Mr Minotti said when it was raining he noticed bubbling in puddles on the ground at the site and set up gas monitors to work out what it was.

“It was syngas coming out to the surface,” he said.

The trial continues.

Source: Linc Energy workers told to drink milk and eat yogurt to avoid acid burns, court told

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Domain’s Falloon fronts staff about complaints

Domain Group executive chairman Nick Falloon has fronted staff to assure them complaints of bad behaviour would be investigated thoroughly after allegations parts of the workplace functioned as a “boys’ club” under former chief executive Antony Catalano.

Mr Falloon spoke to Melbourne and Sydney employees on Thursday afternoon about the upcoming review of its workplace, which was promised after the publication of an article in the Australian Financial Review on Wednesday. The article quoted an unnamed manager describing its Melbourne operations as “like working in an office in the 1980s”.

Mr Catalano announced his surprise departure from the company in late-January, saying he was unwilling to make his family relocate from Sydney to Melbourne.

In two separate staff-wide meetings, the first via video link to Melbourne, Mr Falloon said the review would be conducted by an independent external company and would allow staff to participate on an anonymous basis.

The unidentified external company that will undertake the review is expected to determine its scope and process, with little detail provided in the meeting about how it would be conducted.

The Sydney team was encouraged to support their Melbourne colleagues and to raise concerns with human resources.

One staff member in Sydney asked about when there would be a new chief executive, with Mr Falloon saying the global search was “ongoing”.

Mr Falloon is also the chairman of Fairfax Media, publisher of The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review. Fairfax holds a 60 per cent stake in Domain.

On the condition of anonymity, former and current staff members after the meeting said they hoped the review would address the broader cultural problems in the Melbourne office.

The reactions were different depending on the department employees worked in and their location.

“The company has grown up but the Melbourne office hasn’t,” one employee said.

“There’s a perceptible difference from the Melbourne to the Sydney office”.

Some Sydney employees were “shocked” and “surprised”, saying the culture was different at Domain’s Pyrmont office.

Another employee was happy with how the situation had been handled by upper management, saying the message was that it is “keen for change”.

Source: Domain’s Falloon fronts staff about complaints