The Guardian July 18, 2001


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.

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