MAC: Mines and Communities

Blair Athol miners back on the job with Rio Tinto after 5 years of victimisation

Published by MAC on 2003-06-25

Blair Athol miners back on the job with Rio Tinto after 5 years of victimisation

Miners Union welcomes end to Australia's longest industrial dispute

CFMEU Media Release

25th June 2003

The Miners Union has welcomed today's ruling by a Full Bench of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission that 16 coal mineworkers who were unfairly dismissed at Rio Tinto's Blair Athol mine should be given preference of employment at the company's new neighbouring Hail Creek operation.

CFMEU Mining and Energy District General President Tony Maher said the decision should lead to the re-employment of the unfairly dismissed mineworkers and bring to an end Australia's longest running industrial dispute. The Blair Athol mineworkers and their families last Monday (21 July) marked the fifth anniversary of their unfair dismissal.

"The Commission has thrown down the challenge to Rio Tinto to heal the wounds that have been festering since these 16 mineworkers were victimised five years ago. The time has come when even the most powerful of multinationals must search its corporate soul, when it must measure the enormous power it wields over the lives of ordinary people against the the consequences of the immoral exercise of that power".

Tony Maher said that rather than feeling triumphant, the Miners Union was relieved that the years of suffering for these families was coming to an end. "These families deserve the chance to get on with their lives. They have been through an enormous ordeal and despite the suffering and hardship they have experienced they want to put the bitterness of the past behind them".

Following the record $25 million unfair dismissal settlement at Rio Tinto's Hunter Valley No.1 and Mount Thorley mines in NSW in May last year, Tony Maher said that today's decision could end the bitter 8-year Coal War between the company and the CFMEU. "Blair Athol is the last unresolved issue with Rio Tinto in the coal industry. Its resolution should herald a new era in relations with the company in the coal industry and a break with the company's predatory anti-unionism that led to the victimisation of these men", said Tony Maher.

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.

Contact Tony Maher or Andrew Vickers Visit the CFMEU website at

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