|Issue No 93||27 April 2001|
Victimised Mineworkers Confront Rio Tinto Board
By Paddy Gorman
Mineworkers victimised by Rio Tinto in Central Queensland and the NSW Hunter Valley, joined hundreds of environmental, indigenous and human rights activists in a lively protest outside Rio Tinto's AGM in Sydney this morning.
A husband and wife team representing the families of 16 CFMEU members found to have been victimised by Rio Tinto at its Blair Athol mine in the Central Queensland coalfields, confronted the company's Board of Directors at the AGM over the traumatic ordeals they have been subjected to for almost three years.
They were joined by coal mineworkers who are victims of Rio Tinto's dirty war against unionists. The CFMEU has been fighting 190 cases of victimisation at Rio's Hunter Valley No.1 mine since October 1998; and 80 cases of victimisation at the company's Mount Thorley mine since December 1999. Rio Tinto used the same system at Hunter Valley and Mount Thorley that it pioneered at Blair Athol to victimise workers.
Rio Tinto claimed it used a 'merit system' to determine the sackings. The 16 claimed they were victimised because of their Union membership and took the matter to the Industrial Commission. For over two-and-a-half years, they fought an Unfair Dismissal case.
On April 9, following the longest ever-Unfair Dismissal case in Australia, the Commission found that the 16 had been placed on a Black List by Rio Tinto, victimised and unfairly dismissed.
Commissioner Hodder described the company's treatment of the 16 victims as a "blood sport". The Commission ordered the reinstatement of all 16 coal mineworkers along with full back pay to July 1998.
It was a stunning win against the world's most powerful private mining company Rio Tinto, particularly given that less than 1% of Unfair Dismissal cases have succeeded in Australia under Howard's Workplace Relations Act. The latest figures on unfair dismissals show that between 31 December1996 and 30 June 2000, only 90 cases out of 26,983 have succeeded in reinstatement.
Throughout their ordeal, the mineworkers and their families continued to live in the company town and were given a hard time. In the two-years-and nine-months spent awaiting their decision, the mineworkers volunteered their time and labour to assist community groups and help maintain and restore community facilities.
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