Unions deny responsibility for pet bereavement claims at Hail Creek

Media reports linking unions to outrageous EBA ambit claims have been rejected by the CFMEU, who have revealed that Rio Tinto took the claims from non-union, independent negotiators.

The ambit claims outlined by several news sources this morning are related to negotiations underway at the Hail Creek mine in Queensland, and according to the CFMEU the claims are not part of their log of claims.

The claims were cited by Rio Tinto boss Phil Edmands as examples of threats to Rio Tinto’s business.

In a speech at a Minerals Council of Australia conference in Canbarra last Wednesday, Edmands said “It’s an extract from a summary of an Enterprise Bargaining process involving one of our businesses.”

“I won’t say which one because that matters so much less than what is being negotiated.

“I have mentioned earlier that many of these businesses are currently under margin pressures that threaten their existence.

“In other words these are negotiations over conditions of employment in jobs that could be eradicated forever by market forces and lack of competitiveness.

Edmands then listed the claims for “Fitness for work – nothing can be changed unless there is majority support; Seats in crib huts do not have cushions on them; 7 and a half days extra annual leave a year; Sick leave accrued annually; to be cashed out after two years or upon leaving or termination; and Compassionate leave to be utilised for significant pets or animals, horses, cattle etcetera.”

“The system should limit the ability of ambit claims to cause delay and damage labour market flexibility,” he said.

CFMEU Queensland mining and energy president Steve Smyth spoke with Australian Mining this morning to clear up the misinformation, as perpetuated by headlines such as ‘Mine boss lashes barking mad union ambit claims for pet leave’ from the Herald Sun in Melbourne.

Smyth said that the situation at Hail Creek is unique, in that there are a number of independent representatives negotiating for their own conditions, and that Rio Tinto encourages non-union workers to engage in the enterprise bargaining process.

“The unique thing at Hail Creek is that we’re negotiating an agreement and there’s three unions, the principal being CFMEU, ETU and the AMWU, but we have a lot of non-union reps as well,” Smyth said.

“Those things weren’t part of our log of claims, we wouldn’t pursue that type of claim anyway.

“Whenever we [the unions] meet, the company will say ‘now we’ll meet with our employees and see if there’s anything they want to add,’ so there’s a couple of different dimensions.

“Was it put up? Yes, it was put up, but it was actually Rio Tinto that had it on the agenda to discuss at the meetings, so we don’t know where they got that claim from… that could have come from anybody.”

“Compassionate leave for significant pets, I think they called it, it was out there, but it wasn’t a claim that we pursued, we want job security and redundancy clauses.”

Smyth said that Rio Tinto has actively encouraged employees to speak for themselves, rather than a third party such as a union.

“These claims weren’t pursued, they were dropped straight away, I’m surprised they even raised it.”

Smyth indicated that ambit-style claims were a normal part of wage negotiations in order to counter low offers.

“And the employer does that quite well,” he said.

“As long as there has been negotiations, not one company or one group of workers can say that they haven’t put forward a set of claims understanding that not all of those claims are going to be accepted, and that those claims are there to negotiate away and determine what needs to be kept.

“At Hail Creek, it’s about job security, redundancy clauses, protections on the job, rosters.

“If I remember correctly the claim about seven and a half days leave was a non-union claim, same as the cushions on the seats.”

Smyth was of the opinion that unionism was helping to filter out such outrageous claims, and that if those claims had been brought to the unions, the claims would never have been brought to the bargaining table.

“At the moment companies like BMA and Rio Tinto are trying to have that third party representation removed, but individuals come forward [with this sort of thing], and in the end they will always revert back to that collective approach.”

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