Mining’s Hall of Fame inducts union pioneer

Paddy O’Neill, the grandfather of Rio Tinto’s chief financial officer, will tonight be inducted to the Mining Hall of Fame.

Moving to Broken Hill in 1894, O’Neil worked in shearing sheds, then joined his brothers as a mineworker on the Broken Hill line of lode.

Joining the Amalgamated Miners' Association (AMA), O'Neill represented the union on the local section of the Australian Labor Federation and on the Barrier Labor Federation.

Juggling his work as a sanitary-cart driver at the local council with his union duties, O’Neil’s was said to be a blunt but effective negotiator.

In 1923-24, O’Neill’s helped form the Barrier Industrial Council (BIC) in 1923-24.

Under O’Neill‘s leadership, the BIC oversaw the town’s near-complete withdrawal from the State and Federal arbitration systems and the signing in 1925 of the first of what would eventually become a regime of triennial peak-level collective agreements for local mine workers.

O’Neill died in Broken Hill on 24 May 1953, aged 77 years.

Rio’s CFO, Chris Lynch said the induction was a ‘very special moment for our family’.

“Paddy would probably be slightly bemused by all the fuss, but our family is humbled and honoured that his role in the development of Australian mining is being recognised by the industry,” Lynch said.

“Paddy’s story is magnificently ‘Australian’. He was the son of Irish parents who moved to Broken Hill in 1894 where a rich vein of silver, lead and zinc had been discovered.”

“He developed a passion for workplace relations driven by the poor treatment of his workmates and quickly became a leading union figure; pioneering direct bargaining and the stable workplace agreements that became a foundation stone of Broken Hill’s prosperity and permanence.”

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