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Miners call for workplace changes in WA -

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Miners call for workplace changes in WA

Reporter: Matt Peacock

An unprecedented petition at BHP Billiton's iron ore mine at Mt Newman in Western Australia has
been signed by more than 200 people, complaining about an atmosphere of intimidation and
victimisation surrounding workers who have signed Australian Workplace Agreements.

Transcript

KERRY O'BRIEN: According to the mining industry, the Labor Party's promise to abolish Australian
Workplace Agreements [AWAs] could jeopardise the current resources boom that's fuelling much of
Australia's economic growth.

Almost a third of Australia's workplace agreements - 200,000 - are in Western Australia, mostly in
the mining industry. But in the world's biggest single pit open cut mine, BHP Billiton's iron ore
operations at Mt Newman in Western Australia's Pilbara region, there are claims that AWAs could
have a serious downside for the workers who've signed them.

An unprecedented petition at the mine has been signed by more than 200 people, complaining about an
atmosphere of intimidation and victimisation and warning that a serious safety incident is
inevitable unless the culture changes. The company denies the accusations.

Some of the Newman employs have agreed to speak to the 7.30 Report for this story from Matt
Peacock.

MATT PEACOCK: Australia's resources rush; around the clock scramble to feed the insatiable demand
for coal and iron ore.

CHRIS RICHARDSON, ACCESS ECONOMICS: This is at least the biggest boom Australia's had in 50 years
and arguably the biggest boom we've ever had.

MATT PEACOCK: The boom states are Queensland and Western Australia. On the east coast it's coal and
ships are queuing because the trains and loaders can't cope with the volume required.

Coalminers are almost all unionised and work under collective agreements. In Western Australia it's
iron ore that's fuelling the boom and it's here in the Pilbara, the heart of the industry, where
the workers are flying in and out.

Unlike the coalminers in the east, there are more workers here on Australian Workplace Agreements
than anywhere else in the country. Here at Newman, the largest single pit open cut mine in the
world, BHP Billiton's Whaleback Mine, 80 per cent are on AWAs.

ALLEN ZADOW, LEADING HAND, MAINTENANCE: I've no choice.

MATT PEACOCK: What do you mean? You have a choice when you come here?

ALLEN ZADOW: You don't have a choice. You either sign the agreement or you don't get a job, simple
as that.

BRAD FARMER, GRADER AND BULLDOZER OPERATOR: They probably wouldn't come out and say it, but if you
don't sign an AWA you wouldn't get a job with BHP.

MATT PEACOCK: These workers now believe that those very same agreements could be putting their
lives at risk by undermining overall safety standards.

FRIEDE MORRISON, ORE TRUCK OPERATOR: Really, I think they really want to get the ore out,
production and safety really comes second.

MATT PEACOCK: Safety conditions at Mount Whaleback are amongst the best according to BHP Billiton
iron ore's president Ian Ashby.

IAN ASHBY, PRESIDENT, BHP BILLITON IRON ORE: There's been an enormous amount of effort gone into
safety in all of our operations and no better place is represented than the Mount Whaleback mining
operations. In fact, their safety record has improved over 50 per cent over the last 18 months of
our operation.

MATT PEACOCK: But a significant number of Whaleback mine employees tell a different story and in
the past month they've become so concerned that in an unprecedented move they've decided to speak
out.

FRIEDE MORRISON: If it means my job, well it means my job, but something's got to be done otherwise
there's going to be a fatality up there.

MARTIN THOMAS, PLANT MECHANIC: We're watching out. I don't know, have I got a job up there after
this? I don't know.

MATT PEACOCK: This is no small group, more than 200 have signed the petition. It declares here
that:

'The workforce here is generally stressed unhappy, disillusioned, frustrated and disempowered to do
anything about it...morale is low...'

That, say the signatories, creates the very real potential for a serious incident.

The miners who do champion high safety standards are:

'Seen as obstructionists and resistant to change'

They work in an environment of intimidation.

IAN ASHBY: We're working our way through the contents of the petition. We're trying to get some
idea of just where these workers have come from. On first blush it doesn't look like all of the
workers are specifically located and working in our Mount Whaleback operation.

GARY MARTIN, SHIFT SUPERVISOR: What initiated this letter was one of the crew, the entire crew
spoke to him.

MATT PEACOCK: The petition's author is Gary Martin, who hardly seems a troublemaker. He's never
been a union member and is the supervisor of Newman's mobile equipment workshop.

GARY MARTIN: I was considering just leaving. It's common enough that if you're not happy in a work
environment you'll leave. This is a little bit different in that if I did leave and I happened to
see on the news that someone was seriously injured or killed here, then I'd feel pretty bad about
that.

MATT PEACOCK: But you think it's an important waiting to happen at the moment.

GARY MARTIN: I do and obviously the people who've co-signed do, too.

RACHEL THOMAS: I'm not happy, yeah, I'm angry. I'd love to get up and leave Newman, but my kids are
happy, my kids are in a good school. They're safe. What do you do?

MATT PEACOCK: Concerns at Newman have spilt over into workers' family lives. Rachel and Martin
Thomas had planned to stay here. Now they're not so sure.

MARTIN THOMAS: The shareholders, everybody should be concerned about what's going on here. Pure
luck no one's been hurt yet on the site. I'm dumbfounded.

MATT PEACOCK: Mining is inherently dangerous, a fact that BHP Billiton recognises. But these
workers say that the pressure of production is taking its toll at Mount Whaleback.

FRIEDE MORRISON: I was lucky enough to be trained by someone who knew all of the procedures, worked
in the mine for many, many years and was able to pass on a lot of that information to me. Whereas
now you've got a lot of green people training green people who've only been there a couple of
months and all of a sudden they're trainers. And that's a real concern to me.

MATT PEACOCK: Friede Morrison drives one of the giant 240 tonne trucks that cart ore from the pit
day and night. Like most of her fellow workers she's on an AWA, an employment contract she feels
has put safety on the backburner.

FRIEDE MORRISON: There's a procedure up there that you never dump at night without adequate
lighting. And, you know, they'll dump in the dark because they're frightened to call up and say,
"We need lights here, there's no lights here," they're afraid to hold up production, and they'll
just do it.

MATT PEACOCK: If a truck breaks the dirt mound at the end of the road, it can be catastrophic. This
photo is of one such near miss last year.

Unionist Aaron Greenhalgh believes that AWA workers are not reporting incidents.

AARON GREENHALGH, EXCAVATOR OPERATOR: These are blokes that are coming back to these wind rows and
breaching it, tipping the tyres through and tipping loads and carrying on. That's a near miss,
that's a potential, that truck could be going over. Apart from that, they're driving off and the
next bloke comes along and he could be falling in that same hole.

IAN ASHBY: I'd be disappointed if people think they can't report incidents because they think
there's going to be some repercussion. In fact the evidence that we have with respect to reporting
of incidents is such that we've had over a 200 per cent increase in the reporting of incidents over
the last 18 months.

MATT PEACOCK: Allen Zadow, another AWA employee recently quit as foreman over his treatment in
reporting a safety hazard that hadn't been fixed.

ALLEN ZADOW: A lot of mine incidents aren't reported, full stop. Just ignored.

MATT PEACOCK: Allen Zadow filed a report on his computer.

ALLEN ZADOW: The next morning I was called into the manager's office and asked to explain myself.
It wasn't a very pleasant experience. I mean, I went into a meeting with five other people, me
being the outsider and having five different people, all superintendent above, trying to intimidate
me.

IAN ASHBY: There is no victimisation insofar as reporting of safety incidents is concerned. As I
said, we will continue to encourage people to report safety incidents and potential safety
incidents because it's in the, it's for the well being of everyone that works within the iron ore
group.

MATT PEACOCK: Mount Whaleback workers like Martin Thomas stress it's not BHP, but the local
management they fear.

MARTIN THOMAS: I've not a problem with BHP, BHP has done a great [job], it's been awesome for our
family. The problem I have at the moment, or the concern I have is the way Whaleback's managed.

IAN ASHBY: It's disappointing to me that people that work for our iron ore operations are talking
to the press and others and not talking to us. Look, if people have these concerns they can go all
the way to me if they really want to and talk about these things.

MATT PEACOCK: One reason Whaleback workers are having problems, according to mining union
president, Tony Maher is being unions have been demonised.

TONY MAHER, NATIONAL PRESIDENT, CFMEU: At Mount Newman, they are dominated by AWAs, people don't
have the protection of a union, they're not able to speak up on safety concerns. What's happening
is the management are ruin ruling by fear. They're intimidating people, daring them not to raise
safety issues.

IAN ASHBY: Listen, in our organisation, safety is everyone's business. Safety starts with the
individual.

MATT PEACOCK: The mining industry claims it's that direct relationship of AWAs without the unions
that's essential for the continuing resources boom.

MITCHY HOOK, MINERALS COUNCIL OF AUSTRALIA: They are a fundamental driver of productivity growth,
and they are fundamental to our international competitors.

DAVE DEWAR, PLANT MECHANIC: So the mining boom is restricted just obviously to Western Australia
and Newman. It seems to be working quite well in the eastern States. They're in the same situation
as us. The mining booms and the resource booms are on. They're in a different ...they've got union
based workforces, it seems to be working fine there. The efficiencies from all reports are just as
high if not higher than our workforces.

MATT PEACOCK: Certainly Allen Zadow who's on an AWA feels there's safety in numbers.

ALLEN ZADOW: You would feel a lot more confident 'cause you'd have the backing of a group of
people, not having to go in there by yourself, and that's what happens. You have to go in by
yourself, nobody will back you anymore.

MITCH HOOD: There's no question about people's right to be a member of a union, but there's equally
the flip side where they have the right not to be a member of a union. Similarly they can choose to
collectively bargain and choose not to collectively bargain. It's horses for courses in the nature
of the industry.

MATT PEACOCK: For the workers at Newman, the hope now is that their pleas won't fall on deaf ears.

MARTIN THOMAS: I just hope this reaches the person who put these policies out there, who believes
in them and he has a good hard look at the place, because, gee, I'll be a broken man if I find out
that they know this is going on.

KERRY O'BRIEN: That report from Matt Peacock.

(c) 2007 ABC