Asciano call for urgent IR reform

Asciano has urged the Abbott government to tighten industrial relations laws - including workers' ability to take protected strike action - "sooner rather than later".

Asciano has urged the Abbott government to tighten industrial relations laws - including workers' ability to take protected strike action - "sooner rather than later".

Australia's largest listed ports and rail company has a heavily unionised workforce, especially in its container terminal business, and has frequently clashed with the Maritime Union of Australia.

Asciano chairman Malcolm Broomhead told shareholders at the annual meeting that the company continued to be "burdened by an over-regulated industrial relations environment".

While it supported the government's plan to review the Fair Work Act via the Productivity Commission, Mr Broomhead emphasised that "it is important to move towards appropriate change sooner rather than later".

He said changes should be made to provide employers with "greater flexibility in agreement making and the ability to work directly with employees to agree and implement workplace agreements".

He also called for a tightening of procedures that allowed workers to take protected industrial action.

"The concept of 'genuinely trying to reach an agreement' is very loose and takes no account of whether claims are unrealistic, aggressive or whether negotiations have gone as far as they can," he said. "This promotes drawn out negotiations and sets up an adversarial environment."

But the peak union body said workers were "sick and tired of business trying to bluster" the new government into increasing the number of individual agreements.

"What Mr Broomhead calls 'an over-regulated industrial relations environment' is actually a system where workers have the chance to bargain collectively over pay and conditions," Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said.

Asciano was embroiled in an 18-month dispute with about 1200 wharfies at its four container terminals, which ended in the middle of last year when a new enterprise agreement was inked.

The MUA has also fought Asciano's plans to automate its operations at Sydney's Port Botany, which would result in the company's Patrick ports division laying off 270 of its 511 workers.

Asciano reiterated it was on track to post higher pretax earnings this financial year - "albeit at a slower rate of growth". Both its coal-haulage business and its bulk and automotive ports division were expected to post higher earnings.

But Asciano boss John Mullen said its rail business and container-terminal division faced another "challenging year".

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