The Guardian August 4, 2004


Solidarity beats back goons

Scabs and private security goons had to sleep rough in the 
Western Australian outback after attempts to break a picket line 
were beaten off by solidarity between miners and construction 
workers.

The high-stakes stand-off is unfolding at Yandi, about 150 
kilometres north of Newman in the Pilbara, where miners with BHP 
contractor Henry Walker Eltin are resisting the imposition of 
another round of AWAs (non-union contracts), backed by big 
financial inducements.

Less than a fortnight after BHP was ordered by the Industrial 
Relations Commission to pay equal wages and conditions to union 
members, the company has still not abandoned its goal and is re-
fighting the issue through its remote-site contractor.

For the first time in WA, miners overwhelmingly rejected AWAs 
when Henry Walker Eltin put them on the table last month. Only 15 
percent of the workforce accepted the carrot of increased 
earnings.

A picket line was thrown around the mine and residential camp 
after workers learned the company was flying in Global Security 
guards, many with military training, to lock them down.

Henry Walker Eltin moved the workers on AWAs out of the camp the 
same day, bunking them down at nearby Hammersley Iron, alongside 
security guards and management contractors.

However, Hammersley construction workers demanded the removal of 
"scabs" from their camp and those preparing for the assault on 
Yandi were eventually turfed out.

The dispute turned nasty the next day when the company's force 
used vehicles to try and smash its way through the picket of AWU, 
AMWU and CEPU members.

"It's Patrick's all over again", ACTU organiser Will Tracey 
reported from the front line. "We've got un-badged goons here in 
the standard blue overalls. At least two picketers were hit by a 
car when they first tried to break through.

"This is a very remote site and we are worried about the safety 
of our people. We are a long way from anywhere and a long way 
from anybody."

The 14 police had been flown to Yandi from Newman, Karatha and 
Port Hedland stations.

Some of the tensions were relieved when miners returned to work 
where they will continue their industrial campaign through 
regular stop work meetings.

They are demanding pay equity and the right of new starters to 
decide whether they are employed on AWAs or a collective 
agreement. The employer insists it will only employ those who 
accept non-union individual contracts.

"They have tried the old trick of buying people off and it didn't 
work", Mr Tracey said. "This whole dispute is about the 
contractor's refusal to recognise equal pay and freedom of 
choice. That's all our people are holding out for.

"It is a very important issue for workers everywhere. The people 
on the job have been fantastic but the company is playing 
hardball and we need help from the broader union movement."

Miners and supporters held a rally outside Henry Walker Eltin's 
Perth office last Monday morning.

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