About 190 Oaky North miners were locked out of their workplace in the Bowen Basin west of Rockhampton on August 4 for a third consecutive eight-day period. It was the fourth time the workers had been locked out since June by Anglo-Swiss mining giant Glencore, which the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) suspects of trying to replace the permanent workforce with contractors.
CFMEU Mining and Energy Queensland District vice president Chris Brodsky said: “We believe Glencore’s end game is to replace the permanent workforce with casual contractors ahead of their plans to shut the mine as a strategy for minimising their financial responsibilities to workers.”
The CFMEU asked the Fair Work Commission on August 3 to test if Glencore had breached the good-faith bargaining requirements of the Fair Work Act over its issuing of disciplinary notices to 26 workers who it alleged had over-stepped the company's policy on harassment, bullying and discrimination while on the picket line and Facebook.
Instead, it ordered the union to deflate Scabby the Rat and withdraw the imposing inflatable insult from current and future picket lines, ensure that paid officials do not use the words “scab”, “maggot” or “grub” in any future protests or in online conversations about the lockout, and constrain the conduct of workers accused by Glencore of breaching the company's codes of conduct.
Glencore’s proposed workplace agreement would have stripped workers of several key legal entitlements. It would limit workers’ access to workplace representation; allow the company to unilaterally change rosters against the wishes of employees; pay workers based on profit, not hours and work; increase the cost of company accommodation for workers; and limit the ability of employees to have some matters determined by arbitration.
The union has offered to roll over the existing agreement for two years with no pay increase. Glencore has refused the offer.
As the largest coal mining conglomerate in Australia, Glencore has five more Australian coal mines operating with expired employment agreements, including its Hunter Valley mines in NSW, which have been operating with expired contracts for five years.
"This isn't about greedy miners wanting more money," Brodsky said. "This is about keeping what we've already got, about not going backwards. We were happy to roll the agreement on, but Glencore has refused that."
The Oaky North agreement expired in 2015 and more than 20 meetings between management and the CFMEU Mining and Energy Division have served only to entrench differences over pay and conditions.
“Workers are not asking for anything more than they are entitled to and with coal prices on the rise, Glencore has no excuse whatsoever for trying to strip workers of their basic rights,” said Brodsky.
“This is a real David and Goliath battle at the moment. We’ve had workers and their families followed by security guards and other intimidating behaviour. Our guys don’t scare easily, but they are concerned for their families.
“At the end of the day, we’re a tiny little mining town in the middle of nowhere and Glencore is a huge international corporation. The odds are stacked against us but we’ll fight the good fight all the way. The 99% No vote shows how united this community is.”
ACTU secretary Sally McManus put the issue in a nutshell: “Glencore is trying to force through changes to conditions which would reduce pay and make hours of work unpredictable and remove workers' rights to be represented by their union when they need it. Clearly this is unacceptable. The system is broken if employers are allowed to act in this manner.”