MAC: Mines and Communities

Rio Tinto dispute set to go international

Published by MAC on 2010-02-07
Source: Australian, ICEM, MUA

Australia's chief mineworkers' union, the CFMEU, aims to link Rio Tinto's arrogant behaviour towards workers in the US with the company's manifold human rights and other abuses around the world.

Rio Tinto dispute set to go international

Global unions warn against international backlash to US miners lockout

Maritime Union of Australia

3 February 2010

Global unions are calling for international action against Rio Tinto after the lockout of 560 US miners in Boron, California this week.

The Maritime Union of Australia and the CFMEU Mining and Energy division and unions internationally in the Mining and Maritime Initiative yesterday condemned the latest attempt by Rio Tinto to smash the rights of workers by locking out International Longshore and Warehouse Union members at the Boron operations and called for worldwide solidarity actions.

"Our solidarity goes to ILWU Boron miners and their families in particular who have suffered these attacks on the morning of January 31 for defending workers' rights and refusing to capitulate to the bullying tactics of Rio whose agenda is to break the union in order to slash wages and conditions," the statement read. "This company posted profits of $3.7 billion last year. Rio Tinto hired vanloads of security guards to storm the mine while helicopters flew overhead only last October. It is a company that has been taken to task for abuses of human rights, indigenous land rights, workers' rights and damage to the environment and local communities in Australia, Africa, Bougainville, Indonesia and Iceland.

"On the eve of Mining and Maritime meeting in Palmdale, California on February 15, we call for worldwide solidarity actions in support of the locked out workers at Rio Tinto to be placed at the top of the agenda."

On Sunday, January 31, US time, Rio Tinto subsidiary, US Borax and Chemical Corp., locked the gates of the mine on its workforce and brought in non-union labour, after the workers unanimously refused to vote up a contract that undermined wages and conditions at the site.

"We are going into a big battle and it is going to be a long and hard fought one," wrote ILWU International President Bob McEllrath thanking the unions.

On Sunday the US miners made a powerful statement by appearing with their families at the gate, wearing their work clothes, carrying lunchboxes in one hand and American flags in the other," ILWU spokesman Craig Merrilees reported. "They marched up the gate, proud and determined, telling the company officials: 'We're here to work, we have families and communities that depend on us, so open the gate and let us go to work.'"

Bu the gates stayed locked and the workers left for the union hall where they joined committees that will collect and distribute groceries, raise donations, mobilise community and political support. Spirits remained high - despite a few tears that were shed by family members as workers marched defiantly to demand their jobs back.

In the M&M solidarity statement released yesterday MUA National Secretary and chair of the International Transport Workers' Federation Dockers' section Paddy Crumlin and General Secretary of the CFMEU mining and power division Andrew Vickers called on the Rio Tinto to immediately return to aprocess of good faith bargaining and desist from further labour rights abuses at the mine.

The statement addressed to the ILWU pledged full support for the distressed workers and their families. It highlighted the M&M Sydney Declaration arising from the 2008 M&M conference to counter the impact of worker abuses by corporations in the mining and maritime sector and "to mobilise and take robust and decisive action where called upon and necessary".

Meanwhile calls have also gone out to the worlds' dockworkers and seafarers unions via the International Transport Workers' Federation.

The MUA national council passed a resolution of solidarity with the ILWU miners in November and sent a delegation to the mine earlier last year.

The M&M solidarity declaration comes as the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) announced its unequivocal support to the US miners.

"The ICEM will use its role, as the leading Global Union Federation in the mining industry, to alert trade unions around the globe, particularly those representing Rio Tinto workers, of the lockout and urge them to take action on behalf of ILWU Local 30 in California." the statement read.

The Mining and Maritime Initiative represents five million workers in the mining, maritime, manufacturing, road and rail transport, energy and construction industries chain from Australia, New Zealand, Germany, South Africa, USA, Japan, England, Switzerland, East Timor, Canada, Vanuatu, United Kingdom, Denmark, Belgium, Papua New Guinea and Sweden.

The ITF represents 751 unions representing over 4,600,000 transport workers in 154 countries are members of the ITF. It is one of several Global Union Federations allied with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).

ICEM represents 20 million workers worldwide that are part of 467 affiliated trade unions in 132 countries.

ICEM Pledges Support to Locked-Out Rio Tinto Workers in US State of California

ICEM News release

1 February 2010

The Geneva, Switzerland-based International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine, and General Workers' Unions (ICEM) announces that it gives its unequivocal support to the 560 miners of US affiliated union, International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU), who were locked off their jobs by the Rio Tinto subsidiary, US Borax and Chemical Corp., on Sunday, 31 January.

The workers were refused entry to the mine and processing plant in Boron, California, when they showed for their work shift at 06h00 on Sunday.

"We note that all 500 members of ILWU Local 30 voted against the company's contract proposal on Saturday night," said ICEM General Secretary Manfred Warda. "This should have served as a message to Rio Tinto Minerals to continue negotiating, continue seeking the necessary compromises in order to achieve a mutually acceptable collective agreement."

A prior contract expired on 4 November 2009. Management is seeking unprecedented changes to workers' seniority, shift and overtime assignments, and the way in which promotions are made, as well as seeking unilaterally to impose flexibility changes that favour the company to the detriment of workers.

The ICEM condemns the company for its announcement that it will continue production with replacement workers during the company-initiated lockout. The ICEM will use its role, as the leading Global Union Federation in the mining industry, to alert trade unions around the globe, particularly those representing Rio Tinto workers, of the lockout and urge them to take action on behalf of ILWU Local 30 in California.

Borax, or sodium borate, is a mineral used in detergents, glass, building materials, and other uses such as an ingredient in chemicals. The ICEM represents 20 million workers worldwide that are part of 467 affiliated trade unions in 132 countries.

For further information, contact: Dick Blin, ICEM Information Officer,, +41 22 304 1842, or mobile +41 79 734 8994.

This ICEM release is also available on the ICEM Web-site (

Rio Tinto warns of Pilbara industrial relations war

Andrew Burrell

The Australian

5 February 2010

MINING giant Rio Tinto has warned that growing industrial unrest in Australia's booming resources sector could spread to its critical iron ore mines, as it prepares to start bargaining with unions over workers' pay and conditions for the first time in 15 years.

The warning came as Fair Work Australia deputy president Brendan McCarthy was last night locked in a meeting with Woodside Energy in a last-ditch bid to stop workers building its $12 billion Pluto gas plant in the Pilbara from walking off the job again as early as today.

In an internal memo obtained by The Australian, Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Sam Walsh warned staff that the ramp-up in industrial activity under the Rudd government's new workplace laws could serve as an omen for Rio Tinto and other companies in the Pilbara.

Mr Walsh described last week's illegal strike by 1600 Pluto workers over accommodation demands as "disappointing" and "unnecessary", and said the action had been "encouraged" by the militant Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union.

WA Premier Colin Barnett has urged federal Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard to "roll up her sleeves" and help settle the growing number of crippling disputes in the Pilbara, which last week saw members of the Maritime Union of Australia secure pay rises of up to $50,000 in exchange for no productivity gains. Ms Gillard did not return calls from The Australian last night.

Last month, Rio was forced to agree to negotiate a new collective agreement with the CFMEU, which will represent 300 highly paid locomotive drivers at its Pilbara iron ore operations.

The announcement was seen as significant because Rio has refused to deal with unions since 1993, which the company says contributed to more than 15 years of industrial harmony at its mine sites. That was until the locomotive drivers went on strike in September 2008.

In the memo, Mr Walsh drew a link between the CFMEU's role in the eight-day Pluto stoppage that ended last Saturday and the union's successful efforts under federal IR laws to draw up a new collective agreement with Rio Tinto.

The CFMEU last night described Mr Walsh's memo as "propaganda".

The union's mining and energy division secretary, Gary Wood, said Mr Walsh was wrong to warn of possible industrial action before negotiations had even started.

Under the act, protected industrial action could be taken only after all legal avenues had been exhausted.

Mr Wood said Mr Walsh failed to understand the workings of the CFMEU because the Pluto workers were represented by the construction division, which operated separately to the mining and energy division. "This memo is part of a mischievous plan by Rio Tinto, Sam Walsh and their lawyers at Freehills," Mr Wood said. "There is nothing to be gained from putting this out."

In the memo, Mr Walsh also revealed that the Pluto strike had disrupted Rio's nearby iron ore export operations.

Mr Walsh said the workers' picket line had meant that Rio Tinto's employees and contractors were late to work and there was a delay in completing the berthing of a ship at the Dampier port.

"I am disappointed with the industrial action being encouraged by the CFMEU and others," Mr Walsh wrote in the memo, which was sent to all staff on Tuesday night.

"Our workforce has been impacted and our business disrupted. This I believe is quite unnecessary and at complete odds with our current position with the CFMEU, with which we have agreed to bargain in good faith, but only in relation to train drivers and car examiners.

"I would hope that the (bargaining) with the CFMEU does not result in industrial action, with consequent impacts on you and your families, other local residents and businesses, and our own business."

Meanwhile, the bitter dispute at Pluto is threatening to flare up as early as today.

Mr McCarthy has held a series of meetings in recent days in Karratha and Perth with workers, unions and contractors.

Last night he held talks with representatives of Woodside and principal contractor Foster Wheeler WorleyParsons.

The Pluto workers took strike action over Woodside's "non-negotiable" plan to change their accommodation arrangements in Karratha. The plan would force fly-in fly-out workers to pack up their belongings and move to a different unit each time they arrive to begin a four-week shift.

The workers were due to meet today to decide whether to strike again over the issue.

But Communications Electrical and Plumbing Union secretary Les McLaughlin said yesterday the workers might wait until Mr McCarthy issues his final recommendations from the arbitration, which could take a few more days.

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