Rio Tinto guilty of unfair dismissals
In a case that has taken over two years, Rio Tinto has been found guilty of unfairly dismissing 11 coal mineworkers at its Hunter Valley No. 1 mine in NSW in October 1998. The company has been ordered to reinstate the workers with full back pay. A decision about another 97 workers sacked on the same day has not yet been given. Rio Tinto responded to the Industrial Relations Commission's decision by saying it has no intention of reinstating the men. "Rio Tinto is not above the law. The Commission decision ordered the company to reinstate the men and the company has no option — it must obey the order", said Mick Watson, Northern District President of the CFMEU (Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union). Deputy President of the Commission, Patricia Leary, said "There would be the likelihood of a real injustice to the applicants if they had not been reinstated". This comes just three months after Rio Tinto was found guilty of victimising and unfairly sacking 16 mineworkers at its Blair Athol coal mine in Queensland in June 1998. Rio Tinto is appealing against that decision. "Rio Tinto has been found guilty of victimising coal mineworkers in NSW and Queensland. It is time the company brought this sordid episode to an end", said Tony Maher, Mining and Energy General President of the CFMEU and Mick Watson, Northern District President. The union has called on Rio Tinto to immediately settle the cases of the other Hunter Valley mineworkers and another 86 mineworkers similarly sacked from its Mt Thorley mine in December 1999. The same unfair system of dismissal was used by the company. "These mineworkers and their families have suffered enough hardship and stress in the past two-and-a-half years", said Tony Maher and Mick Watson. We call on the company to show some decency and settle the issue now." One former miner said that the sackings "created an awful lot of grief for many families. There's been many divorces and it's been a tough time." It is estimated that the unfair dismissal claims when finally successful will cost Rio Tinto up to $20 million.