The mining union is pushing for a second Rio Tinto pay deal, following the recent Pilbara contact which covers about 250 workers.
The Pilbara contract is the first union agreement for Rio in almost twenty years, and The West Australian is reporting the Construction, Energy, Forestry and Mining Union (CFMEU) making an “aggressive push” for a second.
The CFMEU said it was seeking a deal for 250 to 500 production workers through an appeal to the full bench of the Federal Court, which brings into question the individual agreements covering workers.
If it succeeds, workers could face having their contracts terminated, automatically landing them in a bargaining period and providing them the legal opportunity to strike over pay and work demands.
These developments come as the first-in-a-decade strikes by BHP Billiton workers in the Bowen Basin continue.
An unsuccessful Federal Court appeal would not take away the right of the mining union to negotiate a collective deal, but it would mean the workers could not legally strike en masse, as industrial action is only protected during bargaining periods.
If workers are on individual contracts, they would all be legally allowed to bargain at different times because they would not all expire together.
During debate about the WorkChoices legislation, mining groups conceded they did want to prevent unions from overpowering the sector and welcoming the non-union individual agreements for preventing the ability for mass strikes.
CFMEU mining sector secretary Gary Wood said the Federal Court result could set a precedent anout individual agreements for workers in the Pilbara.
He said the union is concerned the Pilbara Iron Ore Employees Agreement was not negotiated in good faith and will challenge its validity, alleging the first workers who signed the agreements were led to believe accepting the contract was a condition of their continued employment.
He said after the first group signed the individual agreements, new conditions were set and used in later agreements.
Earlier in the year the union claims were rejected by the Federal Court, but Wood believes the result due in the next few weeks will be positive.
Rio Tinto has dismissed claims workers were ever forced into agreements.
Image: Rio Tinto