The Guardian January 26, 2000


Lessons from Weipa

Events at BHP's Western Australian sites remind us that industrial 
relations in this country is not a debate, it's a war. It's a fight for the 
minds and souls of workers.

In Weipa, this battle has been going on now for 10 years. In this time, Rio 
Tinto has signed up the bulk of the workforce to individual contracts, but 
I can say they have not won the hearts of their workers. The people who 
signed onto contracts, lured by more money, have seen their conditions 
deteriorate over the last five years. They also now have no voice in the 
site policies for Weipa, which are mostly designed in London and Brisbane.

As a Union member, I have the same pay as my contract colleague but when I 
have a problem with site management, I have someone who goes into bat for 
me. I can't tell you how often contract workers ask me to take up 
industrial issues on their behalf. They are too afraid to, in case their 
speaking out affects their annual workplace assessment, which means they 
lose money.

I can say without fear of being contradicted by any of the Weipa workforce, 
it is the input of unions and the industrial awareness of union members 
which is "keeping the bastards honest".

* * *
Nigel Gould, Weipa

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