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Issue #1477      20 October 2010

South African mining leader hammers Xstrata in Australia

The entrenched anti-union antics of Xstrata in Australia have been handed a hammering by a visiting leader, Paris Mashego, from the National Union of Mine Workers in South Africa. Paris Mashego reported that while Xstrata management in South African coal operations is bending over backwards to avoid offending the pro-worker ANC government, it is trying to take a wrecking ball to organised labour in Australia.

The wives and partners of the Tahmoor miners “man” the picket lines earlier this year – the dispute against Xstrata was over compulsory 12-hour shifts and compromised safety standards.

The delegation, hosted by Mining Division of the CFMEU, visited Xstrata mines and communities in NSW and Queensland earlier this year and reported that “regardless of the anti-union tactics [of Xstrata in Australia], the union remains militant and strong through a rank-and-file that believes the union is the vehicle that defends and protects workers’ rights.”

The South African union leader pulled no punches in his post-visit report. That report said Xstrata had taken a conscious decision to destroy the union. The company had devised an anti-union and anti-worker strategy that victimised and attempted to intimidate elected union officials, gave preference to contract workers, refused to grant paid time off to officials attending union meetings, refused permission for union meetings to be held on-site and during working hours and refused to have anything to do with the union beyond a collective agreement.

Pointing to a two-faced corporate operating style, the visiting SA leader noted: “The Xstrata chief executive officer, Mr Freyberg, boasts that Xstrata has good relations with our union in the Republic of South Africa, but that is not occurring in Australia. Xstrata in Australia continues to promote individual contracts, develop direct contact with employees and, as such, Xstrata management sees no role for the union ... The intention of management is to convert everyone into contract workers for easier manipulation and exploitation over the longer term.”

Turning to a central workplace issue, Paris Mashego roasted Xstrata for a so-called “safety incentive scheme” that does not reduce accidents and, in reality, is used to “doctor” safety statistics by non-reporting of accidents. He added that workers viewed “incentive” safety payments as blood money and had refused to be bought-off.

Paris Mashego was particularly pointed in his comments after a visit to Oaky Creek in Queensland, observing: “We were welcomed there by an Xstrata management team that made a presentation about the mine. The mine has employed 157 permanent workers while 330 are employed via contractors. The entire town, Tieri, was covered with Xstrata logos, from the shops, the litter bins and to a doctor’s surgery to the children’s playground. Management boasted that they owned the town and controlled the municipality. The Tieri community is at the mercy of Xstrata, which decides unilaterally what community needs they will meet.

“The Lodge leadership of Oaky North and Oaky No. 1 raised several matters with us – management had closed down the union office, union members experienced victimisation and attempted intimidation and active union members were transferred from one site to another, with worse conditions, in a clear attempt to reduce activism and weaken the union.”

The South African leader said there was a pressing need for an international campaign against Xstrata drawing on the support and campaign expertise of mining unions in Australia, South Africa and Canada. The South African union, for example, said it had an intricate knowledge of how companies used migrant labour to the detriment of local labour and how Xstrata moves to provide only single-sex accommodation for workers as opposed to family housing which would act against community development and the effectiveness of organised labour.

There was, too, an obligation on mining unions to inform Xstrata investors and potential investors of the company’s treatment of workers and to maintain pressure on politicians who needed to understand the implications of legislation that favoured big business over working people.

Common Cause – CFMEU Journal 

Next article – Protest against cuts to adult re-entry education

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