|Issue No 2||26 February 1999|
What's Going Down at Gordonstone?
By Tony Maher, CFMEU Mining Division
A central Queensland mine has become the latest site for Rio Tinto's assault on the union movement.
Gordonstone miners are fighting for the right to work following Rio Tinto's takeover of the mine and its attempt to replace the illegally sacked unionised workforce with non-union labour.
Rio Tinto finalised its purchase of the Gordonstone mine on 10 February from another notorious anti-union multinational, ARCO.
Rio used a $2 shelf company to secretly recruit 22 non-union workers and register a sub-standard non-union agreement, which the company would impose on all future workers at the mine.
Rio's attempt to reopen the mine is designed to deny the 312 CFMEU members illegally sacked by ARCO on 1 October 1997, the right to work there.
Just months before the miners were sacked, the company had erected a statue to the workforce describing Gordonstone as "the home of the best miners" after they had broken a succession of international production records.
In the 17-months since their sacking, the Gordonstone miners and their families have mounted a Picket Line at the mine.
As news broke on 11 February of Rio's attempt to reopen the mine, miners' supporters flocked to the Gordonstone Picket Line. Some 60 police reinforcements were drafted into Emerald, leaving communities throughout Central Queensland short of police on the beat.
When the non-union workforce attempted to come out on the first day at the pit, I was among 250 on the Picket Line who had gathered to meet them. I was arrested. So too was General Vice-President Reg Coates, Queensland Vice-President Doug Bloxsom and 19 other protesters.
Reporting the standoff the following day, the Australian Financial Review wrote of the stakes involved at Gordonstone: "Rio Tinto's legal strategy provides a model for union-busting in the coal industry", it said.
On the second day, Friday, Rio Tinto chartered a plane to fly most of its workers out of the mine, but it was a stunt that the company couldn't afford to keep repeating.
On the Monday morning (15 Feb), rank and file delegates from all over Queensland met at the Gordonstone Picket Line and pledged their full support for the campaign.
The following day the dispute further escalated with the arrest of another 53 protesters on the Picket Line. Among them were Queensland Labor MP Jim Pearce, MUA Southern Queensland Secretary Mick Carr and 19 other members of the MUA and miners from all over Central Queensland as well as three retired mineworkers.
Despite the massive police presence, the non-union workers were unable to get through the Picket Line that night and they spent the night at the mine.
As we go to press, mineworkers and supporters from other regions throughout Queensland continue to join the Gordonstone protest.
On Monday (22 Feb) a busload of NSW Northern District mineworkers arrived to spend a week on the Picket Line in solidarity with their Queensland comrades. The following day, there were a further 60 arrests on the Picket Line.
On 27 February, CFMEU members from all Divisions are to be joined by union representatives from all over Australia to take part in a Union Family Festival Day for the Gordonstone mineworkers and their families.
Since the Gordonstone miners were illegally sacked 17-months ago, our Union has won case after case before the Industrial Commission which ordered that if the mine reopens then the retrenched Gordonstone mineworkers should be re-employed on the basis of seniority.
ARCO eventually won an appeal to this order late last year in a 2-1 majority of the Commission's Full Bench. However, this is being appealed by our Union in the Federal Court.
Although Rio Tinto claims it has nothing to do with the appeal issue, the Court has ruled that it has a case to answer and this hearing is due to commence shortly.
Interview: Checking the Spellar
We talk to a former union official who is now a minister in the Blair Government about the difficult relationship between New Labour and the labour movement.
Unions: Working It Out
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History: Remembering The Eveleigh Railway Workshops
The Eveleigh railway yards have a rich history which your average commuter would never imagine.
Review: Opening Tanner's Australia
Lindsay Tanner's new book offers a frank and forthright view of the future for Australia.
Campaign Diary: Carr And The Unions
No-one would accuse the Premier and the labour movement of being bossum buddies, but their fortunes are inextricably linked.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005