Industrial Action Imminent To Protect Job Security At PWCS

Workers at PWCS are poised to launch protected industrial action against Rio Tinto’s subsidiary Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) in Newcastle after an impasse in negotiation because of the company’s strident anti-union posture.

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[Picture: Assistant National Secretary Ian Bray]

Workers at Kooragang Island and Carrington have voted on the motion to take protected industrial action against PWCS, which has achieved strong support from the workers.

“Rio Tinto and PWCS need to understand that Australia is not Bangladesh,” said Ian Bray, the assistant secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia. “In Australia, we have standards established over many years to make sure workers’ have a voice, a decent standard of living and, most important, a safety and health regime so their life and limbs are safeguarded.”

PWCS’ anti-union proposals are seeking to undermine the safety and health of workers, tear up long-standing settlement procedure of contract issues, and radically change the scope of matters that can be arbitrated.

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[Picture: Newcastle Branch Secretary Glen Williams]

“PWCS management is poisoning a long history of mutually beneficial good relations with its aggressive anti-worker, anti-union approach,” said MUA Newcastle Branch Secretary Glen Williams. “It’s trying to stick it to workers at every turn, refusing our reasonable claim that sick or injured workers should have a right to leave without pay and salary continuance insurance to deal with their illness. It just shows the PWCS-Rio attitude that workers are expendable parts.”

“PWCS has even gone so far as to try to remove the dispute procedure clause that has been in the agreement for many years which would allow PWCS do as it pleases even if a dispute resolution procedure is underway,” added Williams.

Talks between union members and PWCS have seen more than eight months of negotiations. The single bargaining unit representing workers comprises the Maritime Union of Australia, the Transport Workers Union, the Electrical Trade Union, and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union.

Mick Forbes, Branch Secretary of the Transport Workers’ Union, Newcastle Branch, said the problem was that PWCS management was not willing to bargain in good faith.

“PWCS is playing hardball – they won’t move on job security and proposed changes to the contractor’s clause makes our members very nervous about what the company’s real intentions are,” Mr Forbes said. “We have enjoyed a long period of industrial harmony at PWCS through generations of enterprise bargaining agreements that continue to benefit both parties.”

“During the time PWCS has operated the coal loaders, we have seen a cooperative and consultative approach to industrial relations that has allowed PWCS to become the biggest bulk handling facility in the world. This has not happened by accident and our members are as much a part of the success of the company as management,” Forbes added.

Daniel Wallace, AMWU Organiser said: “This is union busting 101 and our members are determined that a few industrial relations extremists, who have been appointed to positions within the management of PWCS, will not destroy the flexibility and industrial harmony we have all worked so hard to achieve over many years.” 

“PWCS are showing absolute contempt for their workforce and they need to come to the table ready to resolve these negotiations as matter of urgency,” ETU organiser Russell Wilson said.

“They have openly said that they will train non-skilled employees who do not have the requisite safety skills to do the job while industrial action is underway. They are determined to undermine their workers,” Wilson added.

In July last year, Glen Williams wrote to NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner seeking an independent report about the cause of a cancer cluster at Kooragang Island. The MUA is still awaiting a response to the letter but  it is understood that Hunter Valley Area Health Service is providing an interim report to the Minister.