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Rio Tinto Test Awaits to Get Mining Firm to Discontinue Individual Work Agreements

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25 August, 2008

The mining company Rio Tinto has been identified by the Australian labour movement as a major obstacle in stopping the use of AWAs, the draconian individual work agreements made to order by the ousted Howard government in order to weaken workers’ rights.

And ICEM affiliate Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) is taking on the company squarely for trying to renew Australian Work Agreements (AWAs) with railroad workers at Pilbara Rail Services, a key Rio subsidiary in its lucrative western iron ore business.

The CFMEU is seeking authorization from the Industrial Relations Commission to hold a secret ballot election in order to take industrial action, a move geared to rid rail workers of AWAs in favour of real collective agreements. Getting such legal sanction in West Australia is aimed at forcing Rio Tinto to the bargaining table.

The union is similarly running campaigns to persuade BHP Billiton iron ore workers in the west to toss away AWAs, as well as Xstrata coal miners in the north.

The Labour Government of Kevin Rudd, in March, passed a new law that scrapped John Howard’s WorkChoices, but major companies are using loopholes in the new law to continue offering AWAs.

Australian Council of Trade Unions President Sharan Burrow said “there has been clear evidence that (telecommunications company) Telstra, Rio Tinto, Cochlear, and other major companies are still exploiting” the loopholes. The ICEM stands with the CFMEU and asks that all miners in Australia refuse AWAs, and demand ironclad collective agreements with their employers.