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Issue #1457      2 June 2010

Angry mine workers take strike action over sacking


On Sunday May 23 unionists at a major open cut mine near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley walked off the job in protest against their employers’ actions in sacking a female employee for some trivial reasons. The mine is owned and operated by BHP that some years ago had a steel manufacturing business in Newcastle.

The “Big Australian” sacked this single mum just days before she had completed her three months probation period after a cold and callous plan hatched by senior mine management and carried out by a couple of “cowboy” mine production foremen.

The plan to “get rid of that woman at all cost” started after the mine manager spoke to a group of new starters that included the sacked employee in the induction room. The woman who was fired was suffering from a food allergy and was forced to use dark glasses to protect her eyes from the bright lights in the room, causing the mine manager to assume she was sleeping behind the dark glasses and from that point onward signalled the start of the attack on her.

It is normally the policy of BHP to issue employees with disciplinary notices should they be found to have broken any of the hundreds of company rules but in this case she was sacked instantly when reporting for start of shift on on the Friday morning. After the formality of being given the sack the woman was marched to a waiting taxi called by management and escorted off the mine-site. One can only imagine the humiliation that that poor woman must have been feeling at that time.

After several hours of meetings with mine management discussing the incident it was clear to the CFMEU officials that they were wasting their time and called a stop work meeting and told the workforce just what has happened.

After a heated and lively meeting attended by all the mine employees that lasted less than 15 minutes it was decided unanimously that strike action was needed and they immediately walked off the job, closing down the entire mine to the shear astonishment of senior mine management.

There was a brief discussion following the walk off with mine management as to whether or not the union would supply labour to load some expected coal trains. The mine bosses were told in no uncertain terms what the company could do with their trains. This is the first time in over 18 years that industrial action of this scale has taken place in this mine now owned and operated by the BHP.

It was made apparent to the union officials that the company was not going to reinstate the sacked worker so the stoppage lasted all weekend until a return to work order was obtained from the office of Fair Work Australia. A representative from BHP was present during the application and did their best to get a three month “no action” clause inserted in the order but a legal representative from the CFMEU was successful in having it reduced to one month. As requested by the order the miners have returned to work but at a much slower pace than usual.

The sacked employee now has taken the unions advice and is taking legal action against the company on a few grounds and if the courts find in her favour it could be said that there will be some interesting times ahead for those involved in this underhanded, callous attack on a single mum who was doing her job.

One lesson learned by the striking miners is the importance of being in the union and supporting those who are in need of support. For example if this woman worker was not in the union there would be very little that the union could do for her except wish her all the best.  

Next article – Sale of ABC centres great for childcare

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