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Australian Miners Reject Anti-Union Deal

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23 August, 2005ICEM News Release No. 22/1999

By a 2-1 vote, Australian miners yesterday turned down an anti-union package offered by Rio Tinto, the world's biggest mining corporation.

The miners' international, the ICEM, immediately urged Rio Tinto to open talks on a worldwide agreement to protect union rights and other human rights in the company's operations everywhere.

Rio Tinto has been trying to deunionise the workforce at its Hunter Valley No. 1 coalmine in Australia, but workers there voted 2-1 yesterday against a proposed company non-union agreement. The votes were cast in a secret ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC), which announced the result this morning.

The bitter long-running dispute will now go to arbitration, where the workers will be represented by the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

At the global level, the CFMEU is affiliated to the 20-million-strong International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions (ICEM), which has rallied worldwide support for workers who are challenging Rio Tinto's anti-union stance in various countries.

The Australian federal government, on the other hand, has consistently sided with the company. Throughout the long drawn out Hunter Valley dispute, the administration of Prime Minister John Howard has given its full support to Rio Tinto in opposing the CFMEU's attempts to have the matter arbitrated.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division General President Tony Maher described the result of the ballot as "a victory for the principle of collective bargaining through the union and an enormous setback for Rio Tinto's deunionisation campaign.

"The Hunter Valley No.1 mineworkers have been subjected to a war of attrition by Rio Tinto in an attempt to beat them out of the union after the initial attempt to bribe them out had failed," Maher declared. "Rio Tinto have used every anti-union law the Howard government armed them with to break the union. The workers have endured mass sackings and victimisation of union activists. Almost every local union representative was sacked at Hunter Valley by Rio Tinto in December last year.

"Today's AEC announcement that the workers have stuck with the union is testament to their courage and to their lack of trust in Rio Tinto," Maher said.


"This decisive Australian vote is one more proof that Rio Tinto can't work against the unions. So they must start working with the unions," insisted ICEM General Secretary Vic Thorpe in London today.

"We repeat our call to Rio Tinto to open negotiations with the ICEM on a global agreement to protect trade union rights and other basic human rights in the company's operations worldwide," Thorpe said. "In the best interests of all Rio Tinto's stakeholders, those talks should begin now."