||Issue No. 246||12 November 2004|
How It Comes To This
Interview: The Reich Stuff
Economics: Crime and Punishment
Environment: Beyond The Wedge
International: The End Of The Lucky Country
Safety: Tests Fail Tests
Politics: Labo(u)r Day
Human Rights: Arabian Lights
History: Labour's Titan
Review: Foxy Fiasco
Poetry: Then I Saw The Light
The Locker Room
Fly Me To … Anywhere
Newcrest sparked the showdown by refusing productivity payments to workers who took a day off out of respect for a supervisor who died at the camp, 300km inland from Australia’s hottest settlement, Marble Bar.
Earlier in the mine expansion project, Newcrest acceded to workers' demands for full payments when they stopped to mark the passing of another colleague.
On that occasion, workers pitched the $150 a head weekly productivity payment into a fund for the dead man's family.
AMWU organiser, Tony Lovett, says Telfer workers have taken up a collection for the dead Sydney man's wife and two daughters, despite the company's stand, but are insisting Newcrest honour the agreement struck earlier.
"A meeting at Telfer today resolved that unless Newcrest pays PIPs they will be seeking planes," Lovett said. "That mean mass resignations.
Lovett said Newcrest's reaction to last week's death brought simmering frustrations to a head.
Telfer is located just inside the Rabbit Proof Fence on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert. Construction workers are flown in from around Australia and do four consecutive 74-hour weeks, before getting one week off.
The site has been plagued by problems. Four months ago, the three largest sub-contractors threatened to walk out, claiming they hadn't been paid.
Cyclone Fay wrecked havoc with the rebuilding program and project costs have nearly doubled from the original $1 billion estimate.
Lovett says, without question, though, the biggest problems are isolation, accommodation and health and safety.
"We have won good rates but these guys deserve every cent," he says. "It's hard to imagine anywhere more isolated. They work 74 hours, over six days, and its not unusual for temperatures to hit 45, and sometimes, 50 degrees."
Lovett and a CEPU representative will fly to Telfer on Wednesday to try to broker a settlement.
Mining Companies Reject Safety Moves
The stand-off comes as mining companies prepare to fight Western Australian government moves to limit working hours on health and safety grounds.
An experts' report to WA's Worksafe Commission recommends limits on the hours and consecutive shifts at around-the-clock operations.
Fly-in, fly-out operations, like Newcrest, are specifically mentioned in recommendations that seek to introduce 72-hour weekly maximums.
Many WA mines require fly-in, fly-out staff to work nine consecutive 12-hour days.
The mining industry has slammed the health and safety proposals on the grounds of increased costs.
But ACTU organiser, Will Treacey, said limitations were a priority.
"The mining industry wants self-regulation but whenever industry is left to regulate itself, it doesn't work," Tracey said. "Production requirements over-ride safety, every time."
He said, only recently, a Henry Walker Eltin employee at the isolated Yandi mine filed an incident report after being required to complete a 24-hour shift, driving heavy machinery.
Tracey said the pit supervisor had defended that requirement on the grounds that the worker had had a one and a half hour break during the shift.
"At BHP sites, we get regular reports of people working in excess of 14 and 15 hour days," Tracey said. "These are dangerous environments in the first place and, the fact is, that fatigue kills."
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