By Alison Delit
NEWCASTLE — Workers at Rio Tinto's Mt Thorley mine went on strike on January 21 in response to a proposed new enterprise bargaining agreement which breaks award conditions. The main change in the proposed agreement is a move from fixed shifts to rotating shifts which can vary dramatically from week to week.
The mine management is also attempting to retrench 100 workers. Prior to the retrenchments, the work force was divided into new divisions based on the classification each worker was originally employed under. By retrenching from some "sections" more than others, management is seeking to override seniority provisions.
Rio Tinto has publicly stated that the aim of the classification system was to isolate younger workers trained under new programs from retrenchment and allow older workers, performing the same job, to be sacked. A large number of union militants are targeted for the sack.
Rio Tinto has backed its anti-worker enterprise agreements with a sustained campaign against the union in the mass media. It has stated that its main objective is to implement non-union agreements at the mine, to move towards "a more efficient work force".
Senior vice-president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union's mining division, Tony Maher, is optimistic about outcome of the dispute. The union's strike fund is in good shape, he said, and the work force is united in opposition to the changes. The strike is scheduled to end on January 27.