TOMORROW marks the first day of what is shaping as a bitter industrial dispute in Queensland’s coalfields.
At its heart is Glencore Xstrata’s push for lesser conditions at the historic Collinsville coalmine.
The Swiss-based multinational is gunning for WorkChoices-style individual arrangements or a lesser collective agreement for the 400 mineworkers at Collinsville.
The company claims publicly that it has no such plans and just wants an agreement that is “flexible and without restrictions”. Its actions however reveal management is anything but laidback in trying to get workers to take less.
Collinsville mineworkers and the union representing them – the Construction, Forestry, Mining & Energy Union – have vowed to stand up to the multinational, and the town’s mining community are rallying behind them.
So how did it come to this?
Glencore already owned the Collinsville mine. But amid the backdrop of cost-cutting across the industry, the company recently announced it was taking over from contractor Thiess as mine operator. ESSENCE OF WHY DISPUTE HAS HAPPENED.
In union meetings, Collinsville mineworkers made it clear they rejected a return to WorkChoices, and the conditions fought for and won would not be given up.
So while it sought individual agreements the company then attempted to reclassify the 100-year mine as a new project, and bring in a ‘greenfield’ agreement with lesser conditions.
But Glencore failed to convince the Fair Work Commission that this was a genuine greenfield, so it settled for plan B: shutting the mine indefinitely and locking out workers.
The union sees it as a clear-cut issue: if one company takes over from another as operator any existing agreement and workplace conditions are transferred along with the rest of the business, as per the law.
One concern for the union is that Glencore could exploit a legal loophole and keep the mine closed until it can be reclassified as a new greenfield project.
While the mine is closed workers, are also concerned the company will continue to hunt down a replacement workforce.
These suspicions are backed by recent reports of the company approaching mineworkers from outside Collinsville. Locals have heard reports the company intends to drive the new workforce to and from the mine in a bus with blacked-out windows. DIDO DRIVE IN DRIVE OUT, FIFO FLY IN FLY OUT
Current CEO Ivan Glasenberg – ranked fifth in Australia’s rich list – recently raised eyebrows for giving corporate mate Mick Davis a golden handshake of $110 million in Glencore’s recent takeover of Xstrata. He later said he’d paid $8.8 billion too much in the deal.
Amid such corporate largesse it’s difficult for Bowen Basin mineworkers to accept Glencore’s ruthless cost-cutting drive.
“This is not the corporate behaviour of a modern Australian employer, this is a return to the dark ages of industrial relations, of trying to intimidate workers into accepting less, cynically timed with a possible Abbott Government that will turn a blind eye to such behaviour,” said Stephen Smyth, the President of the CFMEU’s Queensland mining and energy division.
“Mineworkers across the Bowen Basin should be concerned that this a sign of things to come post-election with multinationals continuing the push for a return to WorkChoices-style contracts.”
Tradition at stake
As one of Australia’s oldest continually operating coalmines, Collinsville has been a pioneering trade union town for almost 100 years. As Glencore management attempt to find a new workforce, locals report scouts boasting this history “was about to come to an end”.
But as locals will tell you, generations of Collinsville miners have worked at the mine, during the lean years and the boom, while mining companies have come and gone.
And the locals are ready for a fight.
A landmark workplace struggle will kick off on Saturday when Swiss mining giant Glencore stops production at a historic