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  Issue No 93 Official Organ of LaborNet 27 April 2001  




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Postcard from the Pilbara

In the face of unprecedented pressure, BHP workers in the Pilbara are standing together and refusing to sign individual cotnracts.


The following is an open letter to BHP, signed by the Pilbara workers, setting out why they will remain collective and strong.


We the undersigned, have read the letter addressed to BHP Iron Ore regarding the "Workers response to Workplace Agreements". We demand BHP stop harassing us both at home and at work to coerce us to sign Workplace Agreements.

We the undersigned would like to respond to the meetings, letters and videos issued by BHP Iron Ore in order to coerce us into signing a Workplace Agreement. BHP Management continually tells the media that we refuse to sign because of pressure from the Union Movement. Yet they fail to ask themselves why we choose the implied pressure of the Union Movement over the extreme pressure being exerted by BHP to sign the Workplace Agreement. The answer is WE ARE the Union Movement. This dispute is being fought and decided by members on the ground. BHP Management needs to ask themselves why we choose to face conflict every time we enter our workplace. BHP Management needs to ask themselves why we tolerate being treated by our employer as the enemy when our only crime has been not to sign a Workplace Agreement.

We do not refuse to sign because of any "Fear Campaign" directed by the Union Movement. We accept the direction of the Union Movement because they are there to support and guide us. We do not refuse to sign because we fear the loss of friends and respect in our Community and workplace. We have lost much already. BHP Management claims that the cost of this dispute is hurting us and that we are not happy with it. Well they are right. We are not happy to lose wages, friends, relationships and harmony in our Community. Our town is divided and our families are feeling the pressure also. We are also aware that the things in life worth fighting for often come at a cost. We are paying that price yet we are still prepared to stand. This is the conviction behind this dispute.

We the undersigned wish to respond to the rhetoric by BHP that it is few voices that are speaking for the masses. The signatures on this petition are proof that this is the voice of the masses. The Union, for us, means collective representation. It means we decide the action we take and consider the consequences of those actions. We are informed, active and organised. We choose representation because we are aware that those of us who dare speak out on issues that are not under the protection of being Shop Stewards or Conveners will be targeted by the Company. We would expect to be sought out, harassed and intimidated. Our Shop Stewards and Conveners are acting under our wishes, not vice-versa. We do not wish for martyrs in this dispute. We expect that our superiors will be under orders to seek out those of us who do speak out, those of us who would be labelled as troublemakers. They will follow those directives, not through choice, but because they are staff. However, this is the basis of this dispute...CHOICE. This choice is already evident in the Workplace Agreement signees who are now silent on issues. Those that have had the audacity to speak out have learnt that "You've signed, you have no choice". There are those of us in this dispute that still have a choice and we choose not to sign a Workplace Agreement and do choose to sign this petition.

We the undersigned would like to respond to the issue of industrial action. BHP tells us that strike action is disappointing and disrupts their business. Yet under current applications BHP are able to send us home for up to 5 shifts if we attend a stop work meeting for longer than 1 hour. Is this not hypocritical? Does BHP want us to strike? It seems they would prefer us to leave. Derek Miller, Vice President Operations, tells us the Conveners were surprised by BHP's protective action. Perhaps they were because this would be the first time BHP has encouraged their employees to strike! Derek Miller also claims it is possible the members were not fully informed that the company could take such action. However, we are aware that BHP will use any tactic available to them in order to turn us away from the collective. It is certainly not beyond BHP to attempt to hurt us financially in the hope that this would encourage us to sign a Workplace Agreement. Is this the choice BHP is accept or leave?

We the undersigned wish to respond to the applications in excess of 3,500 that BHP Iron Ore received for 60 advertised positions. We, in the E.B.A. are certainly not surprised that people want to work for BHP. We all do as well, for we have good benefits and conditions. Graeme Hunt, President Western Australian Operations, has explained that obviously people are happy to work under the new Workplace Agreements. Of course they are. Those conditions will not change while the majority of us hold out against Workplace Agreements. These conditions were not given to us out of the goodness of the hearts of BHP Management. They were fought for by members of unions over many years. These conditions are not in place to hurt or disrupt the business of BHP. They are in place to protect the workers' safety, security and entitlements.

We the undersigned wish to respond to the letters, memos and notices conveying that BHP will not tolerate any form of harassment or intimidation by either party in this dispute. Yet, we are still receiving letters, memos and are forced into meetings with supervision about Workplace Agreements. The latest effort is a video tape sent to our homes expounding the benefits of signing a Workplace Agreement.

Is this pressure, coercion or intimidation?

We are continually told the Workplace Agreements have increased productivity while the EBA people have not, yet we are still doing the same work for less money. Is this not intimidation and discrimination? After EBA meetings or gatherings, Graeme Hunt often tells the media that he is disappointed, however numbers attending are low in comparison to those that could have attended. Well, what else can he say? While trying to convey to the media that we are some sort of idiot fringe of the union movement, he is hardly going to admit that BHP is losing the battle.

We the undersigned wish to respond to BHP in "Building a better Future" and "Building a high performance organisation".

BHP continually states that their only option in gaining a high performance organisation with their workforce is through the introduction of Workplace Agreements. However, all they need do is look at their productivity increases between the March '99 redundancies and the introduction of Workplace Agreements in November '99. The issuing of V.E.R.'s in March '99 saw BHP appeal to their workforce that they needed a better way of doing business. The workforce responded by increasing productivity at a steady rate. Though issues were still being processed through the normal channels BHP were gaining the changes they asked for. Their workforce was happy but obviously BHP was not, as on November 11, 1999 Workplace Agreements were introduced. BHP stated that change was not happening fast enough and they needed to remove the restrictive procedures that place a handbrake on change. When we take a closer look at these procedures, they are the ones in place to ensure safety, entitlements and work arrangements are protected. Of course BHP tells us that nothing will change!!? This is the flexibility that Graeme Hunt is so proud of from his Workplace Agreement workforce. When there is so little regard for safety, procedures or taking other peoples jobs we do tend to be a little suspicious. We too have had 15 months to observe the evidence of what this new "flexibility" means.

BHP Iron Ore tell us they will respect our wishes not to sign. However, apart from still being bombarded by BHP propaganda, we only need remember the respect they displayed in the original issuing of Workplace Agreements. The workforce was at no time consulted in what they wanted or expected from such an arrangement. It was a take it or leave it offer with refusal by BHP to put into writing the conditions they have absolutely no intention of changing!!??

BHP states that "turf wars" between unions were a major reason for the removal of unions in its Iron Ore division. Yet here they have initiated the biggest turf war in the history of their Iron Ore Operations. This time its between the Unions and Workplace Agreements.

Graeme Hunt states that the Workplace Agreements will have guaranteed rewards for Communities but again he fails to explain how. The fly in - fly out arrangements of Contractors working for BHP have little benefits for the businesses and Community Clubs and Associations in Newman. But of course, once again, BHP has no intention of following that arrangement with the rest of their workforce, not that it's in writing.

We the undersigned are aware that Corporate Australia is watching us. We know there are not only Union Movements, but also individual Union members in workplaces around Australia that support us and pray we hold the line. We concede that the ramifications of our actions will not only be felt by ourselves and fellow Australians, but also by those that come after us, namely our children. We do not wish to be remembered as the generation that gave up the rights of workers in exchange for a little cash. Those rights were too hard won by those that came before us. WE CANNOT give up those rights and conditions in one simple contract that have taken generations to achieve. WE CANNOT give up our right to collective representation and leave individuals to argue their own case. All intellects will agree an individual has no power.

We the undersigned realise that the pressure on us to sign will now increase. Supervision will be under orders to apply that pressure as is now evident in the workplace. They will use all legal means available to them against the Union Movement. BHP will increase their fear campaign on what we are losing and will be likely to lose if we refuse to sign. They will try and divide and isolate us from the collective. They will try and back us into a corner and attempt to convince us that we have little choice, that our Union can do nothing. We are the Union, we are collective and we are prepared to stand.

We the undersigned have signed this petition with the knowledge that there has been no coercion or pressure to sign it. We have signed to express to BHP that we do not wish to sign a Workplace Agreement. We have signed in the knowledge that this document has been written and has had input by Union members on the ground. It has been distributed and discussed with each individual person that has signed, with no organisation, co-ordination or coercion from Shop Stewards or Conveners. There have been no directives from any Union leadership body in the compiling of this document. It has been signed out of strength, loyalty, unity and because each individual has made his/her own informed choice after reading this document.

We the undersigned, petition BHP to respect our choice. If BHP wishes to bypass and ignore the respect that they have promised, then we are prepared to stand. We are strong, we are united and we are determined. We are proud to be collective and WE ARE the undersigned.


*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 93 contents

In this issue
*  Corporate: The Jobs Myth
Access Economics' Chris Richardson debunks employer claims that increased workers compensation premiums have a dramatic impact on jobs.
*  Interview: The Workers’ Voice
When trade union stalwart Ian West took a seat in the NSW Upper House he was determined to be more than a bench-warmer. Then the Workers Comp legislation hit.
*  Unions: Postcard from the Pilbara
In the face of unprecedented pressure, BHP workers in the Pilbara are standing together and refusing to sign individual cotnracts.
*  Economics: Currency Unification: Dollarize or Die?
Dick Bryan asks what happens to an economy when it gives up its domestic currency.
*  History: Instant History
In his address to the Australian Labour History Conference, the SMH's Brad Norington asks whether there is still time for history.
*  International: The End of an Era?
The post-Cold War era is over. Something different is developing to take its place. John Passant writes.
*  Media: The Battle for Aunty
The CPSU's Graeme Thompson ouitlines the campaign to save the ABC and this week's emergency share-holders' meeting.
*  Review: Share-Holder Nation
A legacy of government-backed privatisations, demutualisations and stockmarket hype over the past decade is the creation of a nation of shareholders.
*  Satire: SOS: Save the Investment Banker!
Spare a thought for those less fortunate With redundancies at investment banks around the globe looming, now is the time for us to show the world just how much we care. It's just not right.

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