CFMEU keeps sights on Xstrata

FAIR Work Australia ratified the 2010 Tahmoor enterprise agreement last week but the union will continue its campaign against Xstrata. CFMEU vice-president Wayne McAndrew talks to ILN about some of the challenges posed by the new industrial relations regime.
CFMEU keeps sights on Xstrata CFMEU keeps sights on Xstrata CFMEU keeps sights on Xstrata CFMEU keeps sights on Xstrata CFMEU keeps sights on Xstrata

The picket line at Tahmoor. Image courtesy of CFMEU.

Blair Price

In a busy year of industrial relations hostilities, Xstrata Coal has also inked new enterprise agreements at the Ulan and Bulga operations, while Xstrata’s Collinsville operator Thiess more recently settled its outstanding EA after some tense standoffs.

Despite some of the concessions won, the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union is continuing to run its anti-Xstrata website,

After the Tahmoor EA was signed off on October 6, without it being ratified, McAndrew told ILN the union still had outstanding issues with the coal company and some of these would be aired at a later date.

He also provided his views on some of the flaws of the Fair Work Act 2009.

“The laws aren’t perfect in any shape or form, there are still a lot of improvements that need to be made in our view,” he said.

“We have got a strong view that arbitration should be a compulsory component of industrial agreements.”

The lengthy standoff at Tahmoor was at least partly due to this factor, with Xstrata never agreeing to let Fair Work Australia arbitrate a new enterprise agreement.

“The old Tahmoor agreement had arbitration within it,” McAndrew said.

“The new one doesn’t. At the end of the day if there is a dispute at any worksite, and it can’t be resolved, there has got to be that opportunity to have it resolved by a third party.”

McAndrew was involved in agreements for several Centennial Coal operations in New South Wales and said nearly all of those mines had compulsory arbitration clauses within their EAs.

The key union figure held other concerns with the FWA legislation, which became apparent to him during the Tahmoor dispute.

“The bargaining in good faith requirements of the act have got to be tightened up in our view as well,” McAndrew said.

“Too much bargaining in bad faith in our view occurred during the Tahmoor dispute, and certainly not from our side, but from the other side.”

Some of the costs of the long standoff at Tahmoor for Xstrata included the loss of skilled staff.

McAndrew said a lot of experienced people were retrenched during the Tahmoor saga while others left during the dispute because of its effect on them and their families.

He said there was no doubt that other coal companies benefited from this dissatisfaction at Tahmoor.

CFMEU district vice-president Bob Timbs previously told ILN that many were hoping the Tahmoor deadlock would continue indefinitely as the mine provided a pool of trained workers.

“Soon as they want to employ someone they advertise and someone leaves from Tahmoor,” Timbs said.

Two weeks ago the union lodged a complaint with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development on the basis that Xstrata had breached its international guidelines for industrial relations practices.

While the OECD might consider the complaints, there are doubts over whether it can penalise any breaches of its guidelines.

ILN has sought comment from Xstrata on the issues raised.