MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto finally allows return of some of the victimised Blair Athol coal miners

Published by MAC on 2004-02-27

2,049 days after they were unfairly dismissed, Rio Tinto finally opens the gates for the return of some of the victimised Blair Athol coal miners

CFMEU Media Release

27th February 2004

Miners to form a Guard of Honour to see them back after 5 years and 7 months of victimisation

A group of four coal miners who were found to have been among 16 Union members unfairly dismissed by Rio Tinto at its Blair Athol coal mine in Central Queensland on 21 July 1998, will this Monday (1 March) finally walk back on the job after 2,049-days.

Rank and file mineworkers from operations throughout Central Queensland will mark their return to work with a Guard of Honour in what the Union hopes is a move to finally end Australia’s longest running industrial dispute.

Miners Union General President Tony Maher welcomed the return of the four to Blair Athol and the re-employment of two of the other victimised workers at Rio Tinto’s neigbouring new Hail Creek coal mine. “Hopefully, this brings us to the final stages of not only ending Australia’s longest running industrial dispute but also ending the suffering and hardships the families of these miners have been subjected to for well over five years”, he said.

Tony Maher said that on 25 July last year, a Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission ruled that the 16 coal mineworkers who were unfairly dismissed by Rio Tinto should be given preference of employment by the company.

“While the company is appealing the decision, it has at least complied with the re-employment of six of the original 16 but that still leaves 10 of the victimised mineworkers out the gate. Rio Tinto should go the whole hog and get them all back on the job. These men and their families have suffered more than enough. It’s time Rio did the right thing and get them all back on the job so their families can finally rebuild their lives and look to the future with the confidence they deserve”.

Contact Tony Maher 0418 286 735

Andrew Vickers 0418 190 889

Blair Athol Unfair Dismissal Cases Summary

21 July 1998 – 16 Blair Athol mineworkers sacked. Union launches unfair dismissal application.

9 April 2001 – Commissioner Hodder rules that the 16 were unfairly dismissed and the victims of “unfair and unjust treatment” because of their Union membership. The Commission also confirmed the existence of “a ‘Secret Black List” used to victimise the 16 and ruled that their retrenchments were not merit-based. Describes management treatment of Blacklisted employees as a “blood sport”. Commissioner Hodder orders the reinstatement of the 16 with full back pay. Rio Tinto appeals but continues to pay the men while refusing to allow them back to work at Blair Athol.

12 December 2002 – By a majority of 2-1, Full Bench of Commission upholds Commissioner Hodder's finding that the 16 men were unfairly dismissed. In their decision the Full Bench said: “We find for ourselves that the termiantions were harsh, unjust and unreasonable..” However, because the Workplace Relations Act provides for only 6-months pay as compensation for unfair dismissals, and the men had been paid more than this, the Full Bench declined to order their reinstatement at Blair Athol.

7 February 2003 – Union lodges exceptional matters application under Section 120A of the Workplace Relations Act 1996, for an order requiring Rio Tinto to re-employ the 16 unfairly dismissed Blair Athol mineworkers at the company's new neighbouring Hail Creek mine in Central Queensland.

25 July 2003 – Full Bench orders that the 16 unfairly dismissed mineworkers be given preference of employment at Rio Tinto's new Hail Creek coal mine. Rio Tinto announces it will appeal the decision.

1 March 2004 – Four of the 16 victimised miners to return to work at Blair Athol.

8 March 2004 – Two more of the victimised workers to commence employment at the Hail Creek mine.

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