This is so breathtakingly obvious - it's only taken me two years to fully grasp it!
Bruce Wilson's AWU Scandal was a protection racket with standover men, extortion, bribes to officials and nasty surprises for people who didn't toe the line.
If you paid up - like Thiess did - you were looked after.
You might even get a taste of extra business if you knew the rules about sharing in the spoils.
But if your business dug its heels in and did not come to the party with money - well ask Western Mining Corporation about the multi-million dollar Kambalda strikes. Over what?
There's a clear and disturbing pattern in Bruce Wilson's dealings with major corporations.
Companies that paid money to Wilson appeared to avoid major industrial disputes.
Thiess, for example had a trouble free run in WA and Victoria during Wilson's time.
After Wilson made up with Woodside (and with a $19,500 sling per quarter) major workplace changes appeared to have been made there too without rancour.
While Woodside was able to negotiate major changes without major strike action, another oil and gas platform operator which does not appear to have been a donor to a slush fund - Esso - was hit with mindless workbans and industrial action for months during the 94/95 Wilson corporate cash harvesting period.
The most damaging of Wilson's often inexplicable industrial strife campaigns was the Western Mining Corporation disgrace (the operator of the Kambalda mine). I can find no record of Western Mining paying into any Wilson slush fund - and didn't Western Mining cop it.
Western Mining's operation at Kambalda in WA was beset with trouble within weeks of Wilson taking up the WA Secretary position. It wasn't just Western Mining Corporation's operations at Kambalda, WMC's other WA operations were hit too.
This extract from WA's Hansard from 6 May, 1992 is useful for the first hand take on Wilson's MO. Years later it was the same with Esso/P & O. Wilson brought conflict where there had been agreement. He routinely broke promises including agreements endorsed by the Industrial Relations Commission, he made commitments that were not kept and placed petty, irritating industrial disputes and bans on issues that didn't matter for workers. All up it reeks of standover and protection rackets.
Here's the WA Parliament, May 1992:
Hon N.F Moore - Hon Mark Nevill must remember that in the current dispute the miners in
Kambalda had virtually reached agreement on the continuous shift arrangements: after a long gestation period they had virtually reached agreement with the company when onto the scene arrived one Bruce Wilson, about whom Hon Mark Nevill spoke a moment ago. He was out to make a name for himself in the world of union politics and he descended upon a mass
meeting in Kambalda. To give him his due, he is obviously a good talker; he talked them out
of all the arrangements they had made up to that point.
Hon Mark Nevill: No; he wanted to be included on the negotiating team.
Hon N.F. MOORE: The result of his efforts was to completely upset the arrangements that
had been made up to that point, and the negotiations that had been carefully and quietly
worked out between union leaders, the work force and the company were set back virtually
10 years. Bruce Wilson - who has a history of fairly aggressive union activities and is
regarded on the North West Shelf as nothing to write home about - for reasons best known to
himself and perhaps others outside the House, went in there as the new Secretary of the
Australian Workers Union and changed all of the practices of the previous leaders of the
AWU, who I suppose were old-fashioned goldfielders.
Hon Mark Nevill: It was overdue.
Hon N.F. MOORE: The member can argue that if he wishes.
Hon Mark Nevill: I will say it publicly.
Hon N.F. MOORE: The bottom line is that Bruce Wilson turned upside dawn the virtual
agreement that had been reached at that stage and, for reasons best known to him - and I
think they may be political - he has continued to cause problem after problemn at Kambalda.
And it is not just Kambalda which has a problem with continuous shifts; there is also a
problem at Leinster, where Western Mning runs a very successful nickel operation. That
operation cannot have continuous shifts either, because Western Mining cannot get an
exemption under the Act. So it is not just Kambalda; it is Western Mining in total. It is one
company with two mining operations.
Hon Mark Nevill: Western Mining made a big mistake when it tried to exclude him from
Hon H.F. MOORE: If I were Western Mining I would have excluded him too. It is the same
as if Hon Mark Nevill and I were to sit down and do a deal, and when we were virtually
prepared to make a decision Hon Tom Stephens turned up and said he warnted to be involved.
Of course the agreement would break down, because we would know where he was coming
from. There would be no hope of agreement. That is a very simple analogy.
Here's a short history of the disputes that hit Western Mining at Kambalda:
September 14: WMC announces go-ahead of $127 million expansion of Leinster nickel refinery, $50 million expansion of Kwinana refinery and $41 million expansion at Kalgoorlie. Key $105 million expansion of Kambalda mines remains dependent on industrial agreement.
October 12: WMC chairman Sir Arvi Parbo tells company's annual general meeting industrial action is disrupting expansion plans.
November 3: WMC tellsWA Government "no investment" unless Mines Regulation Act changed to allow flexible rosters in line with other States.
November 12: WMC says it will not go ahead with $105 million underground expansion at Kambalda after losing patience over the introduction of continuous rosters. Issues retrenchment notices to 100 workers.
November 14: 600 workers at Kambalda go on strike over retrenchments.
January 10: union officials agree to restart negotiations on continuous rosters ending a month-long stalemate after the company agreed not to retrench 50 underground workers.
January 29: WMC reports lower nickel production because of strikes.
March 17: Kambalda underground workers start indefinite strike over wage claims.
By April, 1992 Western Mining had had enough of Wilson's AWU. The Kambalda miners were out on another indefinite strike and Sir Arvi Parvo, Hugh Morgan et al were getting serious about the AWU.
WMC THREATENS AWU IN WA WITH DEREGISTRATION,
MARK SMITH, The Australian Financial Review, 13 April 1992, page 21
The industrial dispute at Western Mining Corp 's Kambalda nickel operations has worsened and there is little sign of an early resolution.
WMC has begun moves to deregister the State branch of the Australian Workers Union.
WMC's nickel division manager, Mr Phil Lockyer, asked the Industrial Commission last week to issue a summons requesting the AWU to demonstrate why its registration should not be cancelled or suspended.
Mr Lockyer said a group of miners at Kambalda had breached a return-to-work order by holding a stoppage less than 24 hours after the commission had ordered them back on the job.
About 300 striking miners were ordered to return to work last week after a two-week strike over piecework rates.
Compulsory talks between the parties were held last week but they made little headway.
The underground miners want an immediate increase in piece-work rates before they consider workplace restructuring but WMC wants any pay rise to be linked to workplace reforms.
The deregistration move prompted an angry response from the AWU.
Its State secretary, Mr Bruce Wilson, said the attempt to begin deregistration proceedings was mischievous and foolish. WMC was trying to inflame the situation. It appeared that the company did not want to settle the dispute.
WMC is believed to be considering a big scaling down of its Kambalda nickel operations if cannot achieve its restructuring.
Western Mining and the broader WA economy were hurting - but Wilson did not let up the pressure.
KAMBALDA FLARE-UP SEARS WMC SHARE PRICE
|Western Mining Corporation Holdings Ltd's inability to win industrial peace at its Kambalda nickel operations in Western Australia caused the company to be given the cold shoulder by the market yesterday.
The resource giant's share price took a 12c dive to $4.73 as the market grew nervous about the latest escalation of industrial problems at Kambalda.
The worries came on top of heavy selling out of London as investors abandoned gold stocks around the world after the gold price showed no sign of recovering from the dive it took at the start of the week.
Underground mining operations at Kambalda, the linchpin of WMC's nickel operations, remained at a standstill yesterday due to an indefinite strike by members of the Australian Workers' Union.
The underground workers, who on average earn about $63,000 a year, are demanding higher piecework rates for the amount of ore they bring to the surface.
The company believes that the latest industrial action is unrelated to the months of industrial strife endured at Kambalda last year when WMC attempted to introduce continuous rosters.
However, the retrenchment of 100 underground workers in November, after the company failed to get the industrial agreement it required to commit $104 million to a capital upgrade of the operations, has strained relations.
The AWU's mining division president, Mr Ray Delbridge, said said the situation was a stalemate because of a complete breakdown of communications.
Nevertheless, WMC hopes to kept the issue isolated to the continuous rosters issue.
Although the company said in November it had abandoned plans to expand the underground operations, it has since been privately negotiating with the union in an effort to find an acceptable formula for the introduction of continuous rosters.
I know of no record of Western Mining Corporation paying money into any Wilson slush fund. Those who knew Wilson say he was not backward in making requests for payments - as was the case with Woodside, Thiess, Leighton, Fluor Daniel etc. Western Mining was distressed and Wilson held the key to its release from much of its drama. Thus I think it's reasonable to suspect that Western Mining may have been aware that a slush fund contribution would be gratefully received by Wilson and may have limited the industrial strife. WMC apparently chose not to "donate".
The strikes, the picket line violence, the cost to WMC, workers and the WA economy were all very serious matters.
But one thing elevates the Western Mining affair from a simple industrial dispute with attendant thuggery into a top order criminal offence.
Credible eye-witness accounts tell of Bruce Wilson attending at the Western Mining picket line during the indefinite (6 week) strike in May 1992 with 25 kg of powergel, detonators and a plan to destroy Western Mining's smelter. Truly outlaw behaviour from a person in a position of influence protected by a corrupt organisation.
Seen now in the context of favours for those who paid and problems for those who didn't, the plan to blow up WMC's interests is monstrous. Cold, calculating, deadly and driven by the money.