Company used 'whatever-it-takes' tactics against unions

Source: AAP | Published: Tuesday April 11, 4:40 PM

Hamersley Iron embarked on a deliberate strategy to eliminate unions from 
its Pilbara sites from February 1992 onwards and used legal action against 
union organisers to help achieve it, a Perth court heard today.

The company is suing organisers from four unions - the AWU, the AMWU, the 
CEPU and the CFMEU - for $41.5 million in damages, to compensate for lost 
revenue during a two-week strike in June, 1992.

However, the CEPU is fighting to have the action struck out, with the other 
unions likely to follow suit if the action succeeds.

CEPU lawyer Carmel McClure, QC, told the West Australian Supreme Court that 
Hamersley had engineered the two-week strike and pursued legal action 
against the unions so it could introduce individual workplace contracts.

The strike was called by the four unions when Hamersley mechanical fitter 
Phillip Beales refused to join the AMWU.

Ms McClure read from a series of internal memorandums and other documents 
issued by Hamersley Iron management detailing the company's plans to 
eliminate unions from its Pilbara sites.

'If we can successfully demonstrate to our employees that they don't need 
to belong to a union to be employed by us, the next logical step is 
individual contracts,' Ms McClure read from one memo.

Another memo spoke of 'generating employee dissatisfaction with the union' 
by withdrawing a proposal to offer a 4.5 per cent wage increase.

'This will lead to a confrontation which could lead to individual 
contracts,' the memo stated.

Ms McClure said Hamersley had been planning to provoke a strike since at 
least February, 1992.

'From February, 1992, management from the highest echelons down are all 
stating as their objective that Hamersley was to make unions irrelevant and 
go to a single-status workforce,' she said.

However, the unions had no advance warning that industrial action was 
likely, she said, because as far as they knew, Hamersley's workforce was 
100 per cent unionised.

Ms McClure said documents indicated Mr Beales was originally a union member 
but had spoke with Hamersley management in March 1992 about not paying his 
union levies.

She said Hamersley had arranged for him to be flown to Cable Beach in 
Broome for the duration of the strike, while not allowing him to return to 
the company's Tom Price mine until it was over.

'Mr Beales, of course, never crosses the picket line - he's well out of the 
fray,' Ms McClure said.

She said Hamersley planned to begin downsizing its operations after the 
strike was over and while the unions were caught up defending themselves 
against the writs issued against them by the company.

Handwritten memos from managers had identified union members the company 
wanted to get rid of, but official
lists were not kept because this would have contravened industrial relation 

Ms McClure said company documents showed Hamersley had deliberately 
prolonged its legal action against the unions in order to maintain pressure 
on them and divert union resources from fighting the introduction of 
workplace agreements.

'We have got the unions where we want them. We can bleed them dry,' Ms 
McClure read from an internal memorandum.

'We will drag the process out for years.

'They haven't got the resources to oppose workplace agreements in other 
sites across the country. It's best to drag it out.'

Ms McClure said Hamersley's use of the courts in this manner was 
manipulative and dishonest.

'Hamersley was using the proceedings as an instrument of oppression of the 
defendants,' she said.

The hearing, before Justice Kevin Parker, is continuing.

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