Asciano urges fast action on IR change

Asciano has called for the Abbott government to forge ahead with a tightening of industrial relations laws - including workers' ability to take protected strike action - "sooner rather than later".

Asciano has called for the Abbott government to forge ahead with a tightening of 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 clashed frequently with the Maritime Union of Australia.

Asciano chairman Malcolm Broomhead told shareholders at its annual meeting that the company continued to be "burdened by an overregulated 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".

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

He also called for a tightening of workers' ability 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 told shareholders in Melbourne.

"This promotes drawn-out negotiations and sets up an adversarial environment between employee and employer."

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

"Workers know only too well that individual agreements deliver lower pay, worse conditions and less job security," ACTU president Ged Kearney said.

"What Mr Broomhead calls 'an overregulated industrial relations environment' is actually a system where workers have the chance to bargain collectively over pay and conditions."

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 with an accord over a new enterprise agreement.

The MUA has also fought Asciano's plans to automate its operations at Sydney's Port Botany, which would result in 270 jobs being lost.

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