The changing frontier of control in coal: Evidence from a decade of Enterprise Bargaining in the Australian black coal mining industry
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Recent research on the Australian coal industry has highlighted the difficulties the industry faces arising from reduced world coal prices, escalating production costs and overall declining levels of profitability, despite strong demand for coal – a situation that has been described as one of ‘profitless prosperity’. In response to these difficulties, management in the industry have sought, via enterprise bargaining, to increase labour flexibility and productivity and weaken union control at the mine site level. This paper seeks to empirically investigate these changes at the mine site level by examining the contents of certified agreements struck in the coal mining districts of NSW and Queensland since 1995. The analysis focuses on bargaining outcomes with respect to changing work organisation, external labour arrangements, union security and retrenchment provisions and other relevant industrial relations issues which, collectively, illustrate the extent of industrial relations change in the coal industry. We argue that the frontier of control at the mine site level has shifted considerably in favour of management during the 1990s, although not to the extent expected.