Hollow decision for Mount Thorley miners

February 25, 1998

Hollow decision for Mount Thorley miners

By Alison Dellit

NEWCASTLE — The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has vowed to maintain pickets at Rio Tinto's Mount Thorley mine following a favourable, but toothless, decision in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

The AIRC found that Rio Tinto had broken the law in sacking 230 miners in late January, but imposed no penalties and failed to order their re-employment.

To enable it to retrench workers selectively, in blatant disregard of seniority provisions, Rio Tinto reclassified all workers at the site, then sacked workers in particular classifications.

The AIRC found the company had acted in breach of the Workplace Relations Act, had ignored an AIRC-imposed timetable of discussions, ignored provisions of the coal award and ignored the Mount Thorley Operations Workplace Agreement.

The only action ordered by the AIRC was that no more workers should be sacked, and that the company enter into discussions with the union to minimise the number of retrenchments. Union officials described the decision as "closing the door after the horse has bolted".

Negotiations began on February 13, but the company indicated that there was nothing to talk about because it did not intend to sack more workers. The decision heightens disillusionment in the Hunter Valley with the AIRC. It follows a decision two weeks ago to force the miners at Hunter Valley No. 1 coal mine out of arbitration.

The union is taking 79 individual unfair dismissal cases to the AIRC and is considering an application to the federal court against the company. The picket at the mine continues.

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