IN THE same week that the Glencore Lockout reached its 200th day last Friday, the nearly 200 locked out workers defiantly rejected an attempt by the corporate management to ‘bully’ them into submission.
Glencore has locked workers out of the Oaky North mine in Queensland, Australia for 200 days in an ongoing industrial dispute. In what is believed to be the longest lockout in Australian industrial history, members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union (CFMEU) entered day 200 of their lockout.
The six and a half month lockout continues after workers rejected the company’s Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) by 164 votes to 11 on 24th January. The EBA, which was mediated by government arbitrator Fair Work Australia, was the third offer from the company that the workers have rejected.
Workers at Oaky North rejected the EBA because Glencore is increasing the use of casual workers and undermining union representation. The union believes that Glencore plans to replace the workers with contractors and then wind down and shut the mine, reducing their liability for redundancy payments.
‘The very clear message from our rank and file members is that this agreement favours the company over the worker,’ CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland division president Stephen Smyth said.
‘For our members, this has never been about money. At the beginning of this dispute, they proposed a continuation of their previous agreement without any wage increases – which was rejected by Glencore.
‘This has always been about drawing a line in the sand on hard fought for conditions – conditions that were traded through previous enterprise agreements. It is disappointing that this bitter and protracted dispute will continue.
‘For nearly 200 days, these miners have been locked out of their employment by a foreign owned company that makes obscene profits with Australian resources. The system is broken, the laws to protect working conditions are weak, and it’s time for a fairer system where all parties are on an equal playing field.’
Glencore is using contractors to maintain production, while the workers receive a solidarity wage from their union. Many other union branches have donated money to support the locked-out workers. Workers have said they are prepared to spend another six months on the picket line.
The workers were locked out on the same day that the Paradise Papers were released, revealing that Glencore had paid almost no tax or royalties in Australia for a number of years. IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said: ‘The workers at Oaky North have showed tremendous courage and resilience by standing firm against Glencore’s bullying for 200 days. They will not back down. IndustriALL will continue to support them, and continue to campaign until Glencore treats its workforce with respect.’
The CFMEU Mining and Energy Division say they will continue to bargain for the fairest outcome, and an agreement that the workers and the company can live with. The locked-out workers rejected a recommendation about the EBA by the Fair Work Commission’s deputy president Ingrid Asbury.
In a letter to the locked out workers dated January 12, she wrote: ‘It is my strong view that if the employees reject the 2018 proposed agreement, the dispute with continue and the employees will not achieve a greater outcome. I recommend that employees accept the proposed 2018 agreement.’
Angrily rejecting Asbury’s arguments, Glencore Oaky North mineworker Ian Morrissey said he’s fighting against company attempts to casualise the workforce. He insisted: ‘None of us want to be out here but it’s something we’ve got to do. The company has never taken the recommendation of Fair Work or the commissioner before so why should we. They don’t work here, I do.’
Brian Lederhose who drives to work every week from Bundaberg to join the picket, said the increasing use of casual and contract workers is putting job security at risk. It’s happening at every other pit around the Bowen Basin,’ he said. ”Everyone’s trying to use contractors because it’s easy to supplement and get rid of when they don’t need them any more. It’s very hard to be locked out of your workplace that you’re a permanent employee of, and to see people drive past you every day.
‘Pressure from the family, external sources, it’s very hard to deal with mentally, physically, the whole lot. A lot of us are under financial stress, the union’s helping us out immensely, without them we would be buggered, they’re not leaving us out in the cold.’
Central Queensland University employment and workplace relations professor Julian Teicher said the dispute is now possibly the longest lockout in Australia’s history. The closest we can get is the Patrick’s dispute in 1998 involving the waterfront which came close but ended short, that was about three months of activity,’ he said.
• Speaking at the ‘30th Anniversary of the 1988 Long March’ rally in Sydney’s Hyde Park last Friday, Australian Congress of Trades Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus called for Minister Nigel Scullion to listen to the First Nations Workers Alliance (FNWA) and make systemic changes to the racist Community Development Programme.
The FNWA is made up of Community Development Programme workers and Indigenous trade union members who are fighting against the racist and exploitative Community Development Programme. This racist work-for-the-dole scheme does not pay wages to its overwhelmingly Indigenous workforce for the 25 hours of work participants have to do every week in order to receive welfare benefits.
The scheme hands out penalties at a rate and magnitude higher than any other employment scheme. It forces workers to work without OHS protections, leave entitlements, superannuation or workers’ compensation in the event of injury at work.
Sally McManus, ACTU Secretary, said: ‘The union movement was proud to march with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in the 1988 Long March for “Justice, Freedom, and Hope”, just as we are proud to stand beside them today. The Long March was a pivotal moment in Australian history. It brought international attention to Australia’s horrific treatment of First Nations people, and confirmed the Australian community’s overwhelming support for Aboriginal rights.
‘Sadly, today First Nations workers are still fighting for basic rights as workers, due to the Turnbull government’s racist Community Development Programme. This programme denies people basic rights as workers. All workers should be paid legal wages for work. The government should focus on real jobs in regional and remote communities instead.
‘Indigenous Australians are still having to fight for justice 30 years after the Long March, and the union movement continues to stand with them. This Abbott/Turnbull programme is a blight on our nation. The programme must be scrapped, Indigenous workers must be given the same rights, opportunities and treatment before the law that all workers in Australia should be able to expect.’