Weipa workers: 'no return without equal pay'

Issue 

By Bill Mason BRISBANE — As the Comalco-CRA dispute with unionists at the company's Weipa bauxite mine threatened to spread to a national, general strike, Industrial Relations Commission president Deirdre O'Connor called an urgent IRC hearing on November 20 with possible compulsory arbitration if no agreement is reached. Former prime minister and ACTU head Bob Hawke has been called in from retirement to put the ACTU's case to the IRC. On November 19, the ACTU called on waterfront workers to return to work after four days on strike, and looming stoppages in the power, shipping, oil, rail, road, air, chemicals and manufacturing industries have been put on hold. However, industrial action against other CRA-run operations will continue until the Weipa union versus individual contracts issue is resolved. Coal miners were still planning strike action from midnight November 20. Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) joint national president John Maitland said on November 18 the CFMEU was not satisfied with results so far. "I don't know what progress has been made [with CRA] so we will wait and see. Our members don't trust CRA and we will have to be convinced that anything coming out of the talks is the end of it." Picketing workers at Weipa told ABC radio on November 19 that their position remained firm: "no equal pay, no return to work." ACTU industrial officer Bob Richardson, who is supporting the strikers on the site at the Embley River picket line, said the workers had to agree to any IRC-brokered solution to the five-week-old dispute. He said there was "some sense" in Bob Hawke's entry to the dispute as an advocate because "he carries weight as a former prime minister". "But no matter who is advocate or who is on the [IRC] bench, the workers of Weipa will not go back to work unless there is equal pay for equal work. We are now in the hands of the bench from hell, the people who have let [the Weipa workers] down in the past two years." Richardson said, "I would have liked it if we could have reopened discussions with CRA. But negotiations must obviously have broken down ... People say we are difficult to get on with, but we do not want to go back to work unless there's something in the pot. The company values the contract people more than the award people." Meanwhile, Karen Fry reports from Newcastle, that a meeting of 100 union delegates from the 48 northern NSW coalmines unanimously agreed to support Weipa miners and fight the anti-union stance of CRA in a 7-day strike to start from November 26. A fighting fund will be set up. An aggregate meeting of the north's coalminers is planned for the next day.

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