By Paul Glenning
BLACKWATER — Now in the 13th week of their strike, 158 mineworkers at the central Queensland Curragh open cut mine are holding firm in defence of conditions against the giant US company ARCO. If ARCO succeeds in destroying some key mining industry standards, it will open the gate for other mining companies to launch similar attacks on their workers.
On August 1, the company rejected a combined unions proposal for an independent mediator to assist in resolving the dispute. All of ARCO's coal operations in the US are non-union, and it is regarded as one of the most aggressive union-busting operators in that country.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union senior vice-president said "ARCO has stated that the strike could go on for a year. They have told our negotiators to prepare to spend next Easter on the picket line — hardly the sentiments of a company interested in resolving a dispute".
ARCO is demanding the right to hire and fire at will; to pay wages fortnightly; to restrict union representatives' right of entry and to institute 12-hour shifts. Wage levels and leave provisions are also under dispute.
Unions expect the dispute to escalate this week, as ARCO intends to announce the successful tenderers for operations it wants to contract out after sacking 200 mineworkers last month.
ARCO also wants to contract out all coal loading, washing plant operations, drilling and blasting, 90% of the mine's maintenance sector, and all pit pumping operations. It intends to award contracts despite the fact that negotiations with the union are far from resolved.
In a setback for the company on August 1, ARCO's Federal Court challenge to the coal industry's seniority system was postponed until November. Earlier this year the Industrial Relations Commission ruled that the coal industry's "last on, first off" principle was not unlawful or discriminatory under the Workplace Relations Act, but ARCO is leading the charge to make it easier for coal companies to retrench workers at will.
Solidarity is vital to the success of this struggle on behalf of all mineworkers in Australia. Those who can get to Blackwater to join to picket line will be warmly welcomed, or donations and messages of support can be sent to CFMEU lodge president Ray Coleman, fax (079) 861 458 or the CFMEU national office, 3rd floor, 361 Kent St, Sydney 2000.