Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pilbara Train Drivers Escalate Campaign

Chris Latham

Train drivers working in Rio Tinto’s Pilbara iron ore division escalated their campaign for a union collective agreement by holding two consecutive 12-hour stoppages starting at midday on October 22.

The stoppages followed a strike on October 11, the first industrial action Rio Tinto has experienced in the Pilbara for 16 years.

The train drivers are demanding that Rio Tinto negotiate with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) for a union agreement to replace the Australian Workplace Agreements (AWA — individual contracts) that workers are currently employed under.

The CFMEU has been attempting to negotiate with Rio Tinto since July, when it sent the company a draft agreement. The company responded that it will not negotiate with the union and “prefers to directly engage with its employees”.

On October 22, CFMEU mining division national president Tony Maher said: “Rio Tinto’s response is extraordinarily hypocritical. For two decades they’ve said that the secret to the company’s success is its direct relationship with employees, that employees are valued and listened to. Well, these employees have a view and have expressed it, but the company isn’t listening.”

CFMEU mining division WA state secretary Gary Wood said the number of drivers participating in any further industrial action will increase as the AWAs they were forced to sign expire.

“Those employed in the last 16 years haven’t had a choice; signing an AWA was a condition of employment”, Wood explained. “Now, as the contracts expire, they’re voicing their disapproval. The solution is in Rio Tinto’s hands. They just need to sit down and talk with their workforce and their representatives.”

The train drivers have received messages of solidarity from the Australian Workers Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the construction division of the CFMEU. To send a message of solidarity email

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #772


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CFMEU Conducts First Strike on Rio Tinto's Pilbara Operations in 16 Years

Lisbeth Latham

Train drivers employed by Rio Tinto’s Iron Ore operations in transporting iron ore in the Pilbara struck on October 11 and will stage a 24-hour stoppage on October 22 .

The strike action, the first industrial action on a Rio Tinto project in the Pilbara for 16 years, is aimed at winning a union collective agreement between Rio Tinto and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), rather than the non-union agreement that Rio Tinto is pushing to replace the current Australian Workplace Agreement. Currently 39 of 315 train drivers are eligible to strike, however the CFMEU expects more to join in as their AWAs expire. Central to the dispute is Rio Tinto’s plan to implement automated train operations (ATOs).

The CFMEU’s draft agreement put forward in July includes three clauses on ATOs:

  • The establishment of a consultative committee with equal numbers of management and employee representatives to review all aspects of the ATO implementation;
  • No forced redundancies of existing rail employees as a result of ATOs;
  • That ATO locomotives be set up by a qualified driver and accompanied on their route by a driver qualified to operate the route.

Additional clauses include:

  • That the workers receive a minimum salary increase of no less than the wage price index for WA that year;
  • That the market allowance of $20,000, which Rio Tinto had paid to help retain workers, be absorbed into the base salary;
  • That changes in the roster can only be done by agreement with workers;
  • Any changes in the roster require seven days notice.

Rio Tinto has refused to negotiate with unions. The company has attempted to defend this, by portraying the train drivers as greedy and threatening the future of Australia, in an attempt to undermine public support for the workers. Sam Walsh, chief executive of Iron Ore operations, told the October 10 Australian that these were the highest paid workers in the Pilbara on $160,000-$210,000, yet “they are seeking guaranteed wage increases of between 4.9per cent to 5.7per cent, which we wouldn’t agree to”.

Tony Maher, CFMEU mining division national president, said on October 14: “What the dispute in the Pilbara is really about is the right of all Australians to bargain collectively … the right to bargain collectively is a basic democratic right of all Australians, why should the train drivers in the Pilbara be any different?”

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #771


Friday, October 17, 2008

Australian Construction Workers Fight For Democratic Rights

Lisbeth Latham

Australian construction unions have launched a new campaign demanding that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) government of Kevin Rudd abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Despite being elected on widespread working class anger against anti-union laws, the Rudd government have pledged to keep the ABCC in place at least until 2010, with the possibility it role be shifted to another government agency.

The ABCC was formed in 2005 following the passing of the Building and Construction Industry Improvement Act. Much of the legislation contained in the BCIIA had been recommendations of the 2001-2003 Royal Commission into the Building and Construction Industry (Royal Commissions are the highest level of public inquiry in Australia). It was established to investigate the “extent of unlawful activity in the construction industry”. Commissioner Terrance Cole found 392 incidents that might constitute of unlawful behavior in the industry over a seven year period. The vast majority of these were instances of unions holding on site union meetings, attempts to ensure all workers on sites were union members and work stoppages over unsafe working conditions. Thirty of the incidents were associated with employer behaviour, these were largely instances of employers paying strike pay. The terms of reference of the Royal Commission did not include examining unsafe work practices pursued by employers or the use of shelf companies which are closed down robbing workers of their entitlements.

The BCIIA undermine the industrial effectiveness of Australia’s construction unions. In doing this it made illegal a wide range of previously legal industrial activity including:

  • Banning collective agreements from including retrospective pay rises;
  • Banning pattern bargaining, where unions seek common pay deals across hundreds of different employers;
  • Increasing penalties for industrial action occurring outside bargaining periods to $110,000 Aud for unions and up to $22,000 for individuals;
  • Requiring unions to hold secret ballots of their members before taking protected industrial action, including on urgent health and safety issues;
  • Introducing a mandatory 21-day cooling off period after two weeks of protected industrial action;

In order to enforce the BCIIA, the ABCC was given extra-ordinary powers to investigate and prosecute workers. If the ABCC believes on reasonable grounds that a person has information or documents relevant to an investigation, or is capable of giving evidence relevant to investigation it can require a person to give the information, or documents or attend an interview. At an interview the ABCC can require a person to:

  • Reveal all their phone and email records, whether of a business or personal nature;
  • Report not only on their own activities, but those of their fellow workers;
  • Reveal their membership of an organisation, such as a union;
  • Report on discussions in private union meetings or other meetings of workers;
  • The penalty for failing to hand over documents or answer all questions asked is six months imprisonment.

The Howard government, and now the Rudd government have justified the need for the ABCC, on the basis that the construction industry has a “culture of lawlessness”. However there is growing evidence that the ABCC focuses overwhelmingly on policing construction workers and their unions. Federal Court Justice Jeffrey Spender on October 8, said that the ABCC’s prosecution of the Queensland Plumbing Division of the Communication, Electrical and Plumbing Union and its state secretary Brad O’Carroll, was “misconceived and completely without merit”, and if the “Commission was even handed in discharging its tasks of ensuring industrial harmony and lawfulness in the building and construction industry proceedings” would have launched against the company that the CEPU had been in dispute with.

These laws have been impacting on ordinary construction workers across Australia. The largest case was the charging of 107 members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, following a strike by 400 CFMEU members of the in Western Australia following the sacking of the Health and Safety Officer on their work site. Of these workers, 87 of the workers were given fines of between $8,400 Aud and $10,000, Aud the ABCC had sort the maximum penalty of $22, 600 Aud.

A CFMEU vice president charged with coercing crane operators into negotiations faces six months jail time in December for refusing to appear before the commission.
The Australian trade union's say similar investigations have been little more than excuses for union-bashing politicians to seek publicity.

In September, police in Victoria state withdrew charges against a building worker after two years of investigation. The union member was fingered by the commission, which claimed he threatened to kill inspectors when they visited his worksite.

“They besmirched the name of an innocent man in a desperate attempt to portray construction unions as bullies and thugs,” said Dave Noonan, national secretary of the CFMEU. “It is a disgrace, an abuse of power and corruption of the political process.”

[For more information on the ABCC and the campaign against it visit]

This is an expanded version of an article that appeared in the November issue o f Labor Notes this version has been submitted to Union Syndicale Solidaires International the Journal of French Union Federation Union Syndicale Solidaires.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Boeing workers strike

Lisbeth Latham

More than 26,000 members of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) working at Boeing commercial plants in the US began strike action on September 6. The strike, which was supported by 87% of IAM members, followed Boeing’s insistence that a new contract include significant contract concessions. Boeing offered only an 11% wage over three years increase to workers; Boeing’s lowest paid workers receive just US$10 an hour.

At the same time, Boeing has been making massive profits. In 2007, Boeing posted a $4.1 billion profit, an increase of more than 300% over the past three years. Boeing profits have been driven by growing demand for its newer, more fuel-efficient aircraft, with $275 million in backorders.

Financial analysts estimate that Boeing is losing $100 million in revenue for each day of the strike. The IAM are using the strike to push for the reversal of outsourcing of parts production that has occurred since 2002. In September the Society of Professional Employees in Aerospace joined the IAM in pushing for Boeing to bring back jobs outsourced during early production of the Boeing’s new 787. SPEEA’s contract, covering 21,000 Boeing engineers, expires in December.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #770


About This Blog

Revitalising Labour attempts to reflect on efforts to rebuild the labour movement internationally, emphasising the role that left-wing political currents can play in this process. It welcomes contributions on union struggles, internal renewal processes within the labour movement and the struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by 2008

Back to TOP  

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.