MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto's sacked workers not reinstated

Published by MAC on 2002-12-13

Rio Tinto's sacked workers not reinstated

AM - Friday, December 13, 2002 8:21

LINDA MOTTRAM: Australian Union leaders are asking this morning whether laws protecting union members are worth the paper they're written on after a ruling by the Industrial Relations Commission.

The Commission refused to reinstate 16 workers from Rio Tinto's Blair Athol mine in central Queensland, despite finding that they were blacklisted and unlawfully sacked because they were union members.

Stephen Long reports.

STEPHEN LONG: To say coal-mining union boss Tony Maher is unhappy about the Industrial Relations Commission's refusal to reinstate the Blair Athol mineworkers is an understatement.

TONY MAHER: It's an absolute disgrace, it's a bloody disgrace.

The Commission has sacked these workers. In July 1998, Rio Tinto sacked them and they've been sacked again by the Industrial Relations Commission.

And every Australian worker ought to be very frightened about this precedent.

STEPHEN LONG: For the 16 former employees, the decision ends a four-and-a-half year battle to get their jobs back.

They thought they'd won in April last year, when Commissioner Errol Hodder initially ruled they be reinstated with full back pay. He found that Rio Tinto's Blair Athol mine had maintained a secret blacklist of union activists, that it targeted and singled out the blacklisted workers when selecting employees for redundancy, and that for one manager, mistreating union members had been a blood sport.

On appeal, the full bench upheld a finding that there'd been a culture hostile to unionism at the mine and it found that union membership had contributed to the employees' dismissal. But it refused to reinstate the workers.

The reason? It couldn't guarantee they would not have been selected for redundancy anyway.

But that reason cuts no ice with Tony Maher.

TONY MAHER: Fact is, that the Commission has found on two occasions that these people were victimised, blacklisted, unlawfully and unfairly terminated.

That's what the full bench found, that's what Commissioner Hodder found and Commissioner Hodder did the right thing. He reinstated them with full back pay. And what's happened is that the full bench has come to the same conclusions on the evidence and then done nothing about it.

STEPHEN LONG: And in response, the coal-mining union boss is calling for an institution once cherished by the labour movement to be scrapped.

TONEY MAHER: The Commission has really been politicised and turned into the placing of the Government. It's an absolute disgrace and the Commission really has to be abolished. There can't be any justice in a workplace while ever this Commission is in place.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Tony Maher, the General Secretary of the CFMEU Mining Division.

{This a transcript of AM broadcast at 08:00 AEST on local radio, Australia).

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