WORKERS at Rio Tinto’s HiSmelt project at Kwinana have been ordered by the Australian Industrial Relations Commissions to stop the practice of walking off site when the temperature reaches 37.5° celsius.
The order, issued by AIRC deputy president Brendan McCarthy on February 27, applies for one month but does not preclude discussions between employers and employees over management of work.
Work at the iron smelter is said to be approaching a critical stage.
Andreco Hurll Refractory Services, Thiess, United KG and Pacific Industrial Company workers downed tools and left the site on February 3, 16, 17 and 18 when the temperature reached 37.5°.
Most employees were members of the AFMEPKIU (Federal metal workers union) or the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union. Stoppages occurred mainly at the hottest time of the day and no stoppage was for an entire day.
The commission found that workers were leaving the site when the Bureau of Meteorology announced that the Perth temperature had reached 37.5° – based on a reading at its Mt Lawley weather station.
The HiSmelt site is about 30 kilometres south of Mt Lawley and much closer to the ocean than the near-city suburb.
The ACTU had been holding up the project as a demonstration of how the four key project unions the CFMEU, the Australian Workers Union, the Communication Electrical and Plumbing Union and the AFMEPKIU could work together to get a job done without demarcation disputes.
That agreement has been virtually duplicated to cover the Burrup Fertilisers project in the State’s North West.
Union sources say the disagreement at HiSmelt is not over demarcation issues.
ACTU policy coordinator George Wright said that representatives from the four unions would be discussing the matter during a routine phone hook-up.
“We’ll be trying to see if this is something that we can work out,” he told WA Business News.
However, there is a hint of internal union politics in the dispute.
The AWU has been given an indication that it will get coverage of workers on the site when the HiSmelt plant moves into its operational phase, providing there are no industrial disputes on the site.
Freehills employee relations practice head Russell Allen, whose firm acts for Rio Tinto, said that coverage issue could be driving the industrial action.
“The AWU has to get the CEPU, the metal workers and the CFMEU on side for something that it will benefit from,” he said.
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