Train drivers employed by Rio Tinto's Iron Ore operations in transporting iron ore in the Pilbara struck on October 11 and will stage a 24-hour stoppage on October 22 .
The strike action, the first industrial action on a Rio Tinto project in the Pilbara for 16 years, is aimed at winning a union collective agreement between Rio Tinto and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), rather than the non-union agreement that Rio Tinto is pushing to replace the current Australian Workplace Agreement.
Currently 39 of 315 train drivers are eligible to strike, however the CFMEU expects more to join in as their AWAs expire.
Central to the dispute is Rio Tinto's plan to implement automated train operations (ATOs). The CFMEU's draft agreement put forward in July includes three clauses on ATOs:
•The establishment of a consultative committee with equal numbers of management and employee representatives to review all aspects of the ATO implementation;
•No forced redundancies of existing rail employees as a result of ATOs;
•That ATO locomotives be set up by a qualified driver and accompanied on their route by a driver qualified to operate the route.
Additional clauses include:
•That the workers receive a minimum salary increase of no less than the wage price index for WA that year;
•That the market allowance of $20,000, which Rio Tinto had paid to help retain workers, be absorbed into the base salary;
•That changes in the roster can only be done by agreement with workers;
•Any changes in the roster require seven days notice.
Rio Tinto has refused to negotiate with unions. The company has attempted to defend this, by portraying the train drivers as greedy and threatening the future of Australia, in an attempt to undermine public support for the workers. Sam Walsh, chief executive of Iron Ore operations, told the October 10 Australian that these were the highest paid workers in the Pilbara on $160,000-$210,000, yet "they are seeking guaranteed wage increases of between 4.9per cent to 5.7per cent, which we wouldn't agree to".
Tony Maher, CFMEU mining division national president, said on October 14: "What the dispute in the Pilbara is really about is the right of all Australians to bargain collectively … the right to bargain collectively is a basic democratic right of all Australians, why should the train drivers in the Pilbara be any different?"