AWU and Rio Tinto strike workplace deal

The AWU says a new workplace agreement struck with Rio Tinto shows how the union is “able to move with the times”.

The AWU says a new workplace agreement struck with Rio Tinto shows how the union is
“able to move with the times”.

The landmark agreement comes after years of hostilities between the two parties over conditions at Rio’s Bell Bay aluminium smelter.

The agreement, approved by a ballot of workers, has been lauded by both the union and the miner as flexible in light of a recent downturn in the aluminium market.

The AWU had previously said workers at the plant were receiving less in wages than their mainland counterparts and mounted a sustained attack on the multinational miner.

However, AWU national secretary Paul Howes said guaranteed wage increases were dropped from negotiations in favour of securing entitlements which could previously be cut at Rio’s discretion.

Under the deal, workers continue to have common law contracts that are focused on rates of pay but a number of conditions that were previously part of those contracts have been included in the new enterprise agreement, The Australian reported.

These include above the minimum requirements for redundancy payouts made up of three months’ notice and half a month’s pay for each year of service capped at 65 weeks, medical insurance for families and singles and death and disability payments equal to the worker’s base salary.

Paul Howes said the deal secured certainty for Bell Bay employees “without creating any adverse working conditions that would damage the company’s performance”.

 “This is an agreement and arrangement which demonstrates that the union movement is able to move with the times.

“The reality is when we started this campaign the dollar was lower and the aluminium price was a couple of grand higher.

“Now we are in a situation where Australian aluminium production is under a huge amount of pressure because of the low price on the LME (London Metal Exchange) and the high Australian dollar. So the priority for our organisation today is ensuring the job security of our members at that plant. We would never bargain for wages that come at the expense of job security. That has always been our union’s philosophy."

A Bell Bay spokeswoman said the agreement was “fair and flexible for our workforce and for the business”.

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