||Issue No. 230||23 July 2004|
Kill the Lawyers
Interview: Power and the Passion
Unions: Tackling the Heavy Hitters
Industrial: Seeing the Forest For The Wood
Housing: Home Truths
International: Boycott Busters
Economics: Ideology and Free Trade
History: Long Shadow of a Forgotten Man
Review: Chewing the Fat
Poetry: Dear John
The Locker Room
The Agony Of The Refugee
Blow For Union Busters
ACTU organiser, Will Tracey, called last weekï¿½s second arbitrated award settlement ï¿½hugeï¿½, revealing it had eliminated $10,000 to $20,000 a year differentials BHP had used to try to convert the whole Pilbara workforce onto individual agreements.
The settlement, handed down by the three-man WA IRC full bench, followed the mining giant's refusal to negotiate with unions. It provided union members with 12 percent increases, and flowed on all other benefits applying to non-unionists.
Tracey said the decision meant 32 percent wage increases since, July 2002, for unionised iron ore workers. Over that time, their super entitlements have risen from eight percent of earnings to 15.75 percent.
Perhaps, more importantly, the commission signalled its frustration with BHP's continuing resistance to collective bargaining.
It left the expiry date open, suggesting it could further increase award rates if BHP ups the ante by bouncing up earnings of AWA employees, and expressed "concerns" over the prospect of award workers receiving inferior treatment.
"The bench has formally recognised the concept of equal pay for equal work," Tracey said. "It has flowed on all benefits, equalised pay rates and called on the company to return to the bargaining table.
"Effectively, it means that BHP's strategy to break the unions has failed.
"We call on the Big Australian to start behaving like an Australian and accept the umpire's decision. That would mean sitting down and negotiating a collective agreement with workers' representatives."
The federal government saw mineral developments in the Pilbara as an opportunity to advance its non-union agenda. BHP picked up the ball in 1999 and offered massive differentials in wages and conditions to anyone who would walk away from the unions and sign an AWA.
Unions bled members until the ACTU dispatched Tracey to the region to co-ordinate fightback activities between the AMWU, AWU, CEPU, CFMEU and TWU.
Membership stabilised at about 40 percent, two years ago, and has grown slightly since.
Last week the five Pilbarra unions agreed to further formalise their alliance by combining resources as the Pilbarra Mineworkers Union (PMU).
Tracey said the Commission determination had been the first "big victory" for the PMU, coming one day after its establishment.
He said formal recognition for the PMU showed state and federal unions were prepared to listen to the voices of Pilbara members.
"Joining together is our way of building our union and regaining our strength on the job," Tracey said. "It is an endorsement of our campaigning to date and proof that unions are hearing local workers on the best way forward for this region."
BHP Billiton sought to play down the significance of the united front, last week. An unnamed spokesman told the media the PMU would have little impact.
"We are just bemused by it," he said.
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