Monday, June 18, 2007

Pilbara workers attack BHP over AWAs

June 13, 2007 - Hundreds of mine workers at BHP Billiton's Pilbara iron ore operations have protested over "belligerent and overbearing treatment" from management after being put on Australian Workplace Agreements.

A petition at BHP Billiton's iron ore mine at Mt Newman in Western Australia has been signed by over 200 people, complaining about an "atmosphere of intimidation and victimisation" surrounding workers who have signed Australian Workplace Agreements...
The miners say the were feared threats, stress, low morale and risks to safety as miners have been placed in areas had no experience. Up to 10 per cent of the total workforce at BHP's Mount Whaleback mine in Western Australia - believed to be about 2000 - had joined the protest.

Among the 200 miners alleged to have signed the petition, six spoke publicly about their treatment by management under AWAs.

Gary Martin, who has never been a union member is the supervisor of Newman's mobile equipment workshop. "I was considering just leaving. It's common enough that if you're not happy in a work environment you'll leave. This is a little bit different in that if I did leave and I happened to see on the news that someone was seriously injured or killed here, then I'd feel pretty bad about that," Mr Martin told the ABC

Most blamed a company culture under AWAs, the Howard Government's individual employment agreements, which have been spread to 80per cent of BHP's iron ore workforce.

Tony Maher, National President of the CFMEU said: "At Mount Newman, they are dominated by AWAs, people don't have the protection of a union, they're not able to speak up on safety concerns. What's happening is the management are ruin ruling by fear. They're intimidating people, daring them not to raise safety issues."

The petition says employees have been continually "looking over their shoulders" and fear harsh treatment by management. It says those who complain about safety are considered obstructionist and resistant to change, not champions of higher standards.

BHP's Ian Ashby said he was disappointed if employees felt they could not report safety incidents because of feared repercussions. He encouraged employees to report safety concerns directly to him.

Excavator Operator, Aaron Greenhalgh, believes that AWA workers are not reporting incidents. "These are blokes that are coming back to these wind rows and breaching it, tipping the tyres through and tipping loads and carrying on. That's a near miss, that's a potential, that truck could be going over. Apart from that, they're driving off and the next bloke comes along and he could be falling in that same hole..."

Allen Zadow, another AWA employee recently quit as foreman over his treatment in reporting a safety hazard that hadn't been fixed. "A lot of mine incidents aren't reported, full stop. Just ignored," he told the ABC.

After he filed a report on his computer, Mr Zadow was called into the manager's office and asked to explain himself. "It wasn't a very pleasant experience. I mean, I went into a meeting with five other people, me being the outsider and having five different people, all superintendent above, trying to intimidate me..."

The Federal Government says it has referred the matter to its workplace watchdog. Issues of health and safety are looked after at a state level. WA Employment Protection Minister Michelle Roberts says she is concerned by the claims and an investigation is under way to see if they can be substantiated.

ACTU secretary and federal Labor candidate Greg Combet said it was clear AWAs were the cause of the safety worries. "The trouble with the AWAs is that it leaves people one out on their own up against an international mining company and when it comes to a safety issue people one out on their own can't deal with it, feel intimidated," he said. "It underlines the importance of people being able to join together to collectively bargain because that's the only way you can have a say about something as important as safety.

"And it also underlines the importance of the freedom for people to be represented by a union, if that's what they want," he said in The West.

The CFMEU says recent ABS data (6306, Feb 2007) underlines that Australian mining does NOT rely on AWAs – just 31% of workers in metal ore mines, and only 16% of the mining industry’s workforce are on AWAs. Mining relies more on common law contracts (as provided for in ALP policy) rather than on AWAs. About 55% of metal ore miners are on common law contracts.

730 Report
ABC News
The Australian
The West

No comments: