The Guardian March 3, 1999

Gordonstone miners standing firm

by Rohan Gowland

Miners and other unionists continue to be arrested on the picket line at 
the Gordonstone Mine in Central Queensland as management attempts to bus in 
non-union labour. But these arrests have failed to deter the many 
supporters from all around Australia who have converged on the mine.

Last Saturday, a large rally was held and about 1,200 people marched 
through the main street of the nearby country town of Emerald in support of 
the sacked miners.

The picket, the longest ever in the turbulent 200-year history of 
Australia's black coal industry, has been in place since the mineworkers 
were unfairly sacked in October 1997.

"Workers came from all over the country, all unions were represented, from 
as far away as Western Australia, Tasmania, and Darwin; they arrived by the 
busload, flew in, bussed in", Reg Coates, General Vice-President of the 
Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), told The 

The rally was addressed by John Maitland, National Secretary of the CFMEU, 
and John Coombs, National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, 
among others.

The mine company, Rio Tinto, displayed its share of community support with 
a counter protest: "There was one lone protester", said Mr Coates.

Aware that extra numbers of people were arriving for the rally, Rio Tinto 
avoided a confrontation on the Friday before the rally by shutting down for 
the day.

It seems that Rio Tinto decided that to try to cross the picket line with 
all the media present for the rally could have given publicity to the 
picket and generated more "MUA-style" support from the public.


The number of people arrested at the picket, since non-union labour was 
first brought in three weeks ago, has climbed from 89 about a week ago to 
between 150 and 160.

They have been charged with "obstructing police" or "obstructing a 
thoroughfare". The first cases will come to court on March 8.

Those charged have been released on bail with the condition that they do 
not return to the picket.

Unions sought to have these bail conditions lifted and took the matter to 
the Magistrates Court and then to the Supreme Court in Rockhampton, without 

They did, however, win the right for union officials to return to the 
picket, but they must not obstruct vehicles entering or leaving the mine.

They had successfully argued that to not allow officials to return to the 
picket would be an "obstruction of business", as they would not be able to 
service their members.

Federal Court

The CFMEU's Federal Court appeal case went ahead last week and the next 
hearing has been set for April 7. The union is appealing against the 
Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) full bench overturning an 
order by AIRC Commissioner Hodder directing the mine's former owner, ARCO, 
to give preference to the sacked employees if it re-opens the mine.

ARCO refused to re-open the mine on those terms.

Rio Tinto, who bought the mine off ARCO at the beginning of this year, at 
last week's court hearing sought to be excluded from the Hodder order, 
arguing that they have a certified agreement that overrides the Hodder 

Rio Tinto also argued that in any case the order would not apply to them 
because they are not "successors in business". Presumably they base this 
argument on the fact that the mine was closed when they bought it and 
technically there were no employees.

The Federal Court, rather than granting Rio Tinto's request to be excluded, 
said that Rio Tinto's arguments for exclusion were so "legally interesting" 
that it should stay in the case and the case should now be expanded, not 
only to deal with the Hodder order, but also to deal with the legal 
defences that Rio Tinto argues allow it to avoid the order.

As a result, the final decision is now likely to be more significant for 
the union movement and the Gordonstone workers, as it will be dealing with 
the "legality" of some of the employers' methods to de-unionise the mine.

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