ACTU Secretary Greg Combet has called on Australia’s mining companies to clearly state whether they will respect two fundamental and internationally recognised democratic rights – the freedom to join and be represented by a union, and the right of workers to bargain collectively with their employer if that is what a majority of employees in a workplace want. 

Commenting on the recent campaign by some of Australia’s largest and most profitable mining companies against Labor’s announcement that it will abolish John Howard’s AWA individual contracts Mr Combet said:

“The real agenda of the mining companies in this debate is becoming increasingly clear. 

“The objection of the mining companies to Labor’s policy to abolish AWAs has less to do with productivity and flexibility, and more to do with the determination of the mining companies to deny employees the freedom to join and be represented by a union and to collectively bargain. 

“Australian Mines and Metals Association CEO Steve Knott let the cat out of the bag yesterday when he said that his association opposed collective bargaining, not because of concerns about flexibility, but because mining employers do not want employees to have union representation in negotiations around work conditions.

 “Rio Tinto has also been vocal about its objective to keep so-called ‘third parties’ out of its iron ore operations.  It has specifically identified unions and independent industrial umpires as unwanted ‘third parties’.  This approach is in breach of internationally recognized human and democratic rights, and conventions of the International Labour Organization. 

“The freedom to join and be represented by a union is a feature of any decent democratic society. The right of a majority of workers to freely choose to collectively bargain with their employer is also a basic right that workers in countries like the US, Canada and the UK have and they should be respected by mining employers in Australia. 

“Any sensible discussion about the needs of the mining industry needs to start with an acceptance by the mining companies that workers should have the right to union representation if they freely choose it, and that where a majority of workers in a workplace want to collectively bargain with their employer they should have the right to do so.  If those two rights are accepted the ACTU would be more than willing to sit down and discuss the legitimate commercial concerns of the mining companies,” said Mr Combet.

Further information: Response to AMMA’s dismissive comments relating to the ILO.

International Labour Standards

Labour Standards
“By the end of 2006, the ILO had adopted 187 Conventions and 198 Recommendations …”

“Ensuring the freedom of association and collective bargaining can go a long way toward promoting labour market efficiency and better economic performance. And there are obvious economic and social reasons for banning slavery and all forms of forced labour.”

World Bank, 2004 – World Bank: World Development Report, op. cit., p. 141.
(, viewed – 16/5/2007)
Collective Bargaining
Freedom of association ensures that workers and employers can associate to efficiently negotiate work relations. Combined with strong freedom of association, sound collective bargaining practices ensure that employers and workers have an equal voice in negotiations and that the outcome will be fair and equitable. Collective bargaining allows both sides to negotiate a fair employment relationship and prevents costly labour disputes. Indeed, some research has indicated that countries with highly coordinated collective bargaining tend to have less inequality in wages, lower and less persistent unemployment, and fewer and shorter strikes than countries where collective bargaining is less established.
(International Labour Standards –, viewed – 16/5/2007)
ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work
Adopted in 1998, the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work is an expression of commitment by governments, employers’ and workers’ organizations to uphold basic human values – values that are vital to our social and economic lives.
The Declaration covers four areas:

  • Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining;
  • The elimination of forced and compulsory labour;
  • The abolition of child labour, and;
  • The elimination of discrimination in the workplace. 
  • (ILO –