|Issue No 8||09 April 1999|
Women Take the Fight to Rio’s Front Door
By Bernadetts Moloney
Supporters of the Gordonstone miners this week took their message direct to corporate giant Rio Tinto.
The Sydney leadership of mining giant Rio Tinto heard first hand about the impact of the 18-month old Gordonstone mine lock-out on Thursday, when they were visited by a delegation from the Women's Support Group, accompanied by ACTU President Jennie George.
The three Emerald women were joined by a bus-load of women and children supporters from the construction, mining and energy sectors in NSW, along with a handful of students, who occupied the plush lobby of Rio Tinto's headquarters in Milson's Point for over an hour.
Evelyn Weller told the gathering about the harassment endured by the miners and their families in Emerald from security guards employed by then mine-owner Arco and pressures from current media reporting which claims the scab labour employed by current mine owner, Rio Tinto, are being intimidated.
"We have struggled to make sure it is not the union families which bring this issue into town," Evelyn said.
She spoke movingly of the strain of trying to explain to an eight-year old why Dad has lost his job and having to make new friends again, when so many families and friends had left down.
"The saddest part has been to see suicides in families shattered, mental and physical health break-downs, marriage break-ups with stress being too great for come couples to stay and families split.
"Parents having to seek work elsewhere and leaving teenage children who are now working in Emerald to fend for themselves. Families who have invested in their future to the promise of 25 years employment forced to go bankrupt and lose everything. Every hope we had planned for our retirement is gone."
Support shown by the CFMEU Construction Division, the MUA and the mining community had kept them going. "We as workers need to stick together otherwise multinationals and the government will sell our souls for a dollar if they can get away with it.
"Is that what we really want for our children? Our forefathers went through hell to get the conditions we have today. Conditions that until now many of us have taken for granted. With the government's smiling approval, they are turning back the clocks and we can't just let it happen."
Jennie George said world's biggest miner, Rio Tinto had "no soul - because if it had a soul it would actually understand the impact of their actions on the lives of ordinary working people and their communities.
"We saw it in the Hunter Valley and now we're seeing it replayed at the Gordonstone mine. The treachery of a multinational that colludes with Arco to bring in a non-union agreement to lower existing rates and conditions and to by-pass those workers who were so unjustly retrenched by the previous multinational, the Arco company."
"If the company had an ounce of morality, the people it would re-employ first, according to custom and practice anywhere, is those who were unfairly retrenched by the Arco management.
"The case is being heard in the Federal Court right this minute and I'm very confident that the moral arguments that we have on our side will eventually see the light of day in legal terms."
Rio Tinto plans to retrench a further 2000 workers, CFMEU Energy Division NSW Secretary Lorraine Usher pointed out, while giving executives a 25% increase in wages. "So now the CEO has a wage of $3.17 million per annum. All we want is a job and security for the miners' families in those areas. It's about time people started taking money out of their CEO's pockets and putting it into the workers' pockets."
Managers at Rio Tinto headquarters heard the Women Support Group's message but claimed they had no control over employment practices at Gordonstone.
After the meeting, Jennie George said she hoped it would mean that when the women got back to Emerald the miners would at least have an opportunity to sit down with those who make the decisions at Gordonstone to clearly annunciate what they were after.
The Gordonstone Women's Support Group was presented with a plaque to add to the wall built at the picket site, citing the inspiration their struggle had offered to workers across Australia.
The rally was organised by Connie Wheeler and Kylie Wray from the CFMEU Construction Division with full support from Mining and Energy. Connie and Kylie originally met the Gordonstone Women's Support Group, when they visited the picket line as part of a contingent of construction workers who flew up to the remote Queensland town last month.
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Last Modified: 15 Nov 2005