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 cfmeuka@tpg.com.au.

Originally published in Green Left Weekly #772

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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.

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