24/04/2007 - 22:00

Kierath raises spectre of 'total domination' by unions

24/04/2007 - 22:00

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It has been almost 15 years since more than 2,000 workers at Hamersley Iron’s north-west operations went on a 10-day strike after a fitter refused to join the Metal and Engineering Workers’ Union.

Kierath raises spectre of 'total domination' by unions

It has been almost 15 years since more than 2,000 workers at Hamersley Iron’s north-west operations went on a 10-day strike after a fitter refused to join the Metal and Engineering Workers’ Union.

The union had discovered that the tradesman was hired by the company but was not a union member and they demanded he be sacked.

Hamersley did not give in to the union’s demand and, in return, the union organised a strike that brought Hamersley’s Tom Price operations to a standstill and cost it more than $50 million.

The strike led major iron ore buying nations such as Japan to question WA’s reputation as a reliable supplier of raw materials. It was one of many disputes to hit the sector in the 1980s and early 1990s and goes some way to explaining why mining companies have become big adopters of individual contracts with their employees.

WA companies have had access to individual contracts for more than a decade after Court government industrial relations minister Graham Kierath brought in state-based individual agreements.

When Labor came to power in 2001 and abolished the WA-based agreements, the majority of the state’s miners moved to the national IR system by employing their workers on Australian Workplace Agreements.

Speaking to WA Business News this week, Mr Kierath said he remembers the unions had “total domination”.

He said federal Labor’s plan to scrap AWAs would return control to the unions because a single union was often the respondent to an award, which handed it the negotiating power.

“History shows that when the union has total control or monopoly they abuse their power. Will they (Labor) allow workers covered by an award to have a different union?”  he said.

Federal Labor leader Kevin Rudd says he will scrap AWAs and provide common law contracts as an alternative.

Business groups say it is unclear how viable option common law contracts are and it is what involvement the unions will play in their negotiation.

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