The Guardian May 2, 2001


Mineworkers' victory over Rio Tinto

Sacked mineworkers at Rio Tinto's Blair Athol operations in Queensland 
have achieved a crucial and hard won victory, striking another blow against 
the transnational corporation's anti-union agenda. In what the Mining and 
Energy Division of the CFMEU described as a landmark decision, the 
Australian Industrial Relations Commission last month ordered Rio Tinto to 
reinstate, with full back-pay, 16 coal mineworkers sacked in July 1998.

The Commission found that the 16 were victims of a company-sanctioned 
conspiracy. The Commission also confirmed the existence of a "secret black 
list" used to victimise the 16 and ruled that the retrenchments were not 
merit-based.

Mining and Energy Division General President Tony Maher said that the union 
was delighted for the Blair Athol miners and their families. "They have had 
to endure almost three years of incredible stress and strain. It has been a 
real burden that should never have been foisted on them."

Mr Maher called on Rio Tinto to immediately settle all outstanding unfair 
dismissal cases in the coal mining industry following the Commission's 
decision. The union is still fighting 190 other unfair dismissal cases 
against Rio Tinto at its Hunter Valley No 1 and Mount Thorley mines in NSW.

"They too have been victimised by Rio Tinto under the guise of the so-
called `merit system' it pioneered at Blair Athol after the Howard 
Government abolished the principle of seniority [last on, first off] in the 
coal industry."

The union says the Blair Athol decision shows that the merit system is a 
sham, no less at the Hunter Valley and Mount Thorley mines than at Blair 
Athol. The 110 victimised Hunter Valley No 1 workers have been waiting for 
justice since October 1998, and the 80 Mount Thorley workers since December 
1999.

Gary Barnes, one of the reinstated 16, is the local lodge President at 
Blair Athol. He told The Guardian that Rio Tinto still would not 
allow the miners to begin work in their rightful positions.

"Even though they're paying us, they claim there's no work on the site for 
us to do, yet they have over 100 full-time contractors doing the work we 
previously did."

He said the company's victimisation of its workers affected the whole 
community, hurting workers and their families, resulting in overwhelming 
evidence against Rio Tinto, with the Commission's decision speaking of 
conspiracy.

Tony Maher reiterated that the Blair Athol mineworkers and their families 
had gone through an agonising time. "In the wake of the Blair Athol 
decision, Rio Tinto should close this disgraceful chapter of victimisation 
and settle with the Hunter Valley and Mount Thorley mineworkers 
immediately. They and their families deserve nothing less."

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