As you click on the various links here, listen to "Mr B". I did just now, spellbound - it is chilling.
I have checked my notes and emails from my first contact with Mr B. He and I have exchanged emails and phone calls but I think his PS to one email sums up the situation perfectly.
PS. On second thoughts,Bruce Wilson is just plain evil
Recall that in May 1991 Bruce Wilson was made WA state secretary for the AWU after narrowly missing out of the note to be Bill Ludwig's National Secretary (with Ludwig as President).
On 12 June 1991 - just days after his appointment - Wilson had his first mention in the WA Parliament in a debate about exorbitant union fees the AWU levied over workers already covered by another union - click here.
That is equivalent to a half yearly fee for that union and indicates that the AWVU is not intent on protecting workers' welfare but on milking them as dry as it can for as much as it can during the period it has some sort of control over them. I am disappointed that that occurred in a State Government jurisdiction. I understand it is illegal for any union to insist on membership before allowing workers to do their job. If that is not the case it is certainly immoral that this is happening in a State Government department. It indicates that the AWU is not interested in the welfare of
these people but has seen this as a chance to grab a few dollars and milk them dry.
Hon T.G. Rudler: Where did you get this information?
Hon BARRY HOUSE: From tomorrow's The West Australian.
Hon T.G. Butler: Have you checked with Bruce Wilson, secretary of the AWU?
Hon BARRY HOUSE: That information has been checked. I have drawn this matter to the attention of the Government because its response so far has been weak, to say the least. It can do something about this matter because it comes within a Government department's jurisdiction. These people are being exploited by a revenue desperate union. Perhaps it has learnit from the revenue desperate State Government. It is a situation in which the State Government should intervene to protect workers' rights.
On 6 November, 1991 the opposition leader Mr Court spoke at length about the Kambalda dispute - for the Hansard, click here.
I apologise in advance for the length, but to understand the way the Labor Party system works with unions controlling MPs and blocks of votes, it's worth reading this in full.
GRIEVANCE - WESTERN MINING CORP LTD
Kamnbalda Nickel Operations
MR COURT (Nedlands) 2.23 pml: My grievance is addressed to the Minister for Mines and relates to the precarious position in which the work force at the Western Mining Corporation Ltd's Kamnbalda nickel operations find themselves because of the Government's failure to show proper direction in the handling of the following issue. One hundred and fifty jobs are at risk as a result of this Government's handling of the matter. The Government keeps telling this House that employment is a priority and with 11 per cent unemployed in this State something must be done about it. However, every time this Government is put to the test on an employment issue, it fails. In this case it has given commitments to people, including the company, and to this Parliament that it believes the
Mines Regulation Act must be amended to enable continuous underground mining to take place. When it comes to actually changing the regulations it has bowed to the wishes of the senior officials of the Australian Workers Union who want to call the shots.
The background to this issue is that over the last year Western Mining has made it very clear that certain things had to be done to encourage new investment in its nickel operations to enable it to save jobs and to employ additional workers. Firstly, it required a competitive gas price for its refining operations at Kwinana. Secondly, it required some latitude on the emission requirements for its smelter at Kambalda and, thirdly, it needed to introduce continuous underground mining because the company had a lot of capital tied up in expensive equipment that was not being used as productively as it should have been.
The first two issues were addressed by the Government. Instead of changing the gas price, it reached an agreement on royalties and I understand that the company and the Government reached an agreement on the emission requirements for the company's smelter. However, the Government has not been prepared to bite the bullet on the third issue. The company made it clear to both the work force and the Government what must be done if employment is to continue.
Several months ago the AWU was very close to reaching agreement on the introduction of continuous underground mining and the changed work practices that would go with it. Quite rightly, the union was negotiating new employment conditions for the proposed continuous underground mining. It was very close to finalising that agreement, with the support of the work force, but the whole issue took a turn backwards when there was a change in the leadership of the AWU. Mr Bruce Wilson, with the support of the member for Eyre, the Federal member for Kalgoorlie and the member for Pilbara, was appointed secretary of the union. We then saw some good old fashioned flexing of industrial muscle to show who is calling the shots.
Mr Graham: He is a good bloke.
Mr COURT: Does the member for Pilbara chink he is a good bloke? Does he think it is
good to put people's jobs at risk? Sure enough, he started flexing his industrial muscle and he made it clear that the union was not prepared to accept the changes which the company had outlined were necessary. A campaign was organised to make sure that the moves by the company were frustrated. At the recent Labor Party State Conference it was made very clear that the Mines Regulation Act
would not be changed without the full approval of the AW, and under no circumstances would it accept anything other than 7.5 hour shifts, not eight hour shifts. A motion was moved and passed to that effect. The situation is that senior Government Ministers had given assurances to the company that they were prepared to amend the mines regulations. It was not a big deal, but the Ministers did not do it. The Opposition has been waiting months for the Government to introduce the relevant legislation and it has not come to pass. We made it clear last week chat we would introduce the legislation and yesterday we started the process of amending the Mines Regulation Act which will make it possible for continuous mining to occur.
Pressure has been applied and the company has made it very clear that 150 people will lose their jobs this week. The Government announced on Monday that it would grant an exemption and would eventually introuce amendments to the Mines Regulation Act. In effect, nothing was achieved last Monday because the union made it clear that it will stick with the 7.5 hour shift and it is not prepared to accept an eight hour shift. I understand that eight hour shifts are customary in continuous underground mining operations. I ask the Minister why the Government has not introduced amendments to the Mines Regulation Act. It is a relatively simply exercise. The Government made a commitment to introduce those amendments some months ago, but nothing has been done. We spent many hours yesterday - until 4.30 in the morning - discussing the Daylight Saving Bill, and yet in this situation where jobs are at stake the Government does not regard the matter as urgent enough to warrant same priority. What is the Government's position on the eight hour shifts? Does it think the company is unreasonable in asking for eight hour shifts? This is
very much a test for both the Government and the leadership of the union. The days of using
disputes of this type for political gain are gone. When operating in an economic climate of
I1I per cent unemployment, the Government and union leadership should give top priority to
protecting jobs. No-one is asking for anything unreasonable.
It is also important that the views of the workers at Kambalda be listened to. By and large
they have made it clear that they are prepared to accept changes. They want to keep their
jobs, and yet action is being taken which would deny them their jobs. The Government and
the union involved will become increasingly irrelevant to the people working in the
Kambalda operations if they do not show sonme leadership in crying to find a resolution for
these problems. I ask the Minister to explain why the Government has not introduced the
amending legislation, and the Government's attitude on the proposed eight hour shifts.
MR GORDON HILL (Helena - Minister for Mines) [2.33 pm]: I thank the member for the
opportunity to address this matter, even though very briefly. I came out of a meeting a few
moments ago to listen and respond to the grievance. The meeting I was attending involved the Deputy Premier and Minister for State Development, and representatives from Western Mining Corporation Lcd and the AWU. The purpose of the meeting is to resolve the problem and find common ground on the issue, which I am sure is possible. We are trying to reach consensus on the issues involved. The problem boils down to whether the company can operate productively, efficiently and economically with or without the continuous roster
arrangement - whichever is applicable. As the member for Nedlands said, the company was
given a commitment by the Government and by me personally some weeks ago - I cannot be
precise about the date - in relation to repealing divisions 5 and 6 of the Mines Regulation Act
to allow for continuous mining. The Government and I feel that those sections of the Act are
an anachronism within the mines regulation area. If, indeed, we were considering a health
and safety issue, it may well be appropriate for the State Mining Engineer to apply health and
safety conditions to ensure that the mining process takes place in an appropriate environment.
The issues are whether it is appropriate to repeal those sections of the Act and, once having
repealed them, whether that will have an impact on the work force and the company, and
whether the results will be as intended. The Government has indicated uts intention to repeal the relevant sections of the Act, and it has also indicated that, pending that repeal, it will
grant exemptions from those sections on application by Western Mining. As Minister, I have
the power to grant those exemptions. The following process is involved: In the first instance
the company must make an application to the regional office of the Department of Mines.
Western Mining has lodged an application for exemptions at the Kalgoorlie office for a
number of mining operations in IKambalda. Following lodgment, applications are considered
by the State Mining Engineer, in conjunction with the local mining engineering division, and
are discussed on site with the work force. It may be that variations in the conditions are
applied on certain sites because some shafts may require different conditions from others.
We must discuss the nuts and bolts issues with the workers, employers, and geological and
mining engineers at the site. That process cakes some time, and it has been in train for some
time with regard to this company's application for exemptions. In due course the
recommendations will be made to me. I have instructed the Department of Mines to expedite these exemptions but the process must still be followed because we must ensure that
appropriate health and safety conditions will apply for each shaft.
The company applied for exemption for the Revenge Mine, and that has been granted.
However, even though it was pranted some time ago, the question still remains whether the
work force and the AWU will accept the conditions the mining company wants to apply; that
is, eight hour shifts for underground mining. That dispute has been before the Industrial
Relations Commission for resolution. Thierefore, even though the application for exemption
was made some months ago, the exemption was granted, and I have indicated to the
company that if it applies for further exemptions for other mines, they too will be granted
under the appropriate conditions, no result has been achieved and nor has agreement been
reached to mine at the Revenge Mine on a continuous basis. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the granting of exemptions for the other seven mine shafts and the repeal of sections 5
and 6 of the Act would necessarily produce the desired result.
Mr Court: Because there was a motion at your State conference saying that the company cannot mine it unless it accepts 7.5 hour shifts. Who is running this State - you or the unions?
Mr GORDON HILL: I listened to the member for Nedlands' comments without interruption,
and I will respond to the issue raised. The motion in full states that the State Government
shall not grant exemptions, but this Government has indicated that it will do so. It is an
expression of opinion from the Australian Labor Party Conference and it is not a matter of
policy. The State Government has indicated its intention to proceed with the granting of
those exemptions. A public announcement has been made, even though the motion states
that this action should not be taken. The Government has continued to address this matter.
However, despite what the Government or the Minister do, at the end of the day there is no
guarantee that the operation will continue, because there is a matter in dispute between the
union and Western Mining, and it has not been resolved. That matter is not in our hands; it is
with the Industrial Relations Commission, and it is in the hands of the company and the
unions to sort it out. We are facilitating that opportunity in discussions that are going on at
this moment, and I shall return to that meeting shortly. We must get the parties around the
table to try to resolve the issue on a sensible basis so that we will have a workable solution
rather than conftontation. Where the matter is taken to the Industrial Relations Commission,
the commission expresses a point of view, the issue is still not resolved, and there is still
Mr Court: Do you have a problem with an eight-hour roster?
Mr GORDON HILL: From a personal point of view, I do not, but I am not a mining
engineer and am not an expert on occupational health and safety issues. This matter has
gone to the Department of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare for its consideration and
representation to Government in order that the matter can be discussed and considered in a
sensible way and so that we can get a resolution of the conflict and not a situation which is
inflamed in a way that is similar to the dispute that we had at Kanibalda some years ago. A
tripartite body has been established to make recommendations to Government about this
matter, and that process is in place. The Government has stated that it will listen to those
recommendations. We have stated also that we do not believe it is appropriate that capital
equipment be tied up in the way which the member for Nedlands has described: I
acknowledge that it is not sensible for that to occur. It is an anachronism within the Act, and
it must be removed. That is the position which Cabinet has now adopted, and, pending our
ability to implement changes to the Act, we will grant exemptions. However, despite that, at
the end of the day, in order to make it work, there must be an agreement between the
company and the unions to ensure that the occupational health and safety issues are catered
for and that the work force is protected and maintained at Kambalda.
The SPEAKER: Grievances noted.
Because of the length of this post, I'll break here and come back with more shortly