Mining unions have secured a significant win in the sector, allowing them to meet and represent members in the lunchrooms of a non-authorised mine site.
Last week Fair Work Australia changed legislation enabling employers to ban unions from lunchrooms and The Australian Workers Union says the decision by Rio Tinto to allow its first union agreement in nearly twenty years, will set a precedent for the industry.
Rio Tinto had complied with laws at Rio’s Bell Bay site in Tasmania that stipulate the company must ensure meeting rooms are available for union business, but the union said they were too far away from the workers saying workers did not have enough time during their lunchbreak to walk to the designated rooms and discuss concerns.
The move by the mining giant came after the union launched a legal challenge after having issues accessing members at Rio’s Bells Bay site.
It also comes as BHP Billiton mine workers in the Bowen Basin continue the first strikes at the company in two decades.
But the decision by Rio has not been well received from everyone in the industry, with the Australian Mines and Metals Association saying the precedent put lunchrooms across the country in danger of being politicised.
Chief executive Steve Knott has likened it to forcing people in a food court to listen to Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott while eating their lunch.
"Surely workers deserve to eat their meals in peace and free from the pressure to participate in union or political conversations that inevitably occur in an environment where unions are given free rein," he told The west Australian.
Knott said the Labor party have broken a promise not to give special treatment to unions special power.
"On this basis, we don’t see any reason why union officials should have any more rights to be in worker’s lunchrooms than insurance representatives or car salespeople," he said.
But Australian Workers Union WA secretary Steven Price said the decision was a way to protect workers and ensure unions have access to existing and potential members.