The New Reality of Labour Relations

Leigh Clifford emphasizes a team-based approach in their Australian operations, where employees share a unified identity. He dismisses the division between management and labor, highlighting the success of this approach in their aluminum refinery in Gladstone. Clifford considers the question of employee representation a personal or organizational decision, with a focus on running the business effectively and maintaining good relationships throughout the organization.

You raised a question about relationships with labor. I think therein lies the problem because it says there's management labor. And the concept that we've got, especially in our Australian operations...

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You raised a question about relationships with labor. I think therein lies the problem because it says there's management labor. And the concept that we've got, especially in our Australian operations, is we're all part of one team. We've just developed an aluminum refinery in Gladstone. Everybody in that refinery wears the same clothes. Everybody has a business card. Everybody has an internet address. Everybody has access to the email system. We're a team.

And I think the situation that there has to be this sort of invisible barrier on one side of which is management, the other side of which is labor. Let's face it, we're all employees, and we're just doing different roles. And I think many of the ideas that we had, we've been able to put into practice in that operation. And frankly, I'd have to say it's an outstanding example of thinking about how you run an organization or an operation. And I can't remember how many people are there, but three or 400 or something like that. 

Anyone who saw it wouldn't ask a question which says, well, how has it changed labor and management? I'd have to say the question of how people are represented or how they choose to be represented is really a decision for them. In some countries, there might be a very great preponderance of history, of unionization, etc., but that's the individual's call or the organization's call. What we're interested in, we're businessmen, and we're trying to run a business as effectively as possible.

And what we've got to ensure is that management has a relationship with their subordinates as you go down the organization. Now, all I would say is that the work of Elliot Jarks and others, I think has helped improve those relationships at all levels in the organization.

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Richard Leigh Clifford
Former Chief Executive Officer
Rio Tinto plc
Rio Tinto

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