The refusal of Rio Tinto to negotiate with the union representing workers at its Pilbara iron ore operations shows the urgency of bringing in laws that protect workers’ rights to collective bargaining and have a strong independent umpire, say unions.

ACTU Secretary Jeff Lawrence said the train drivers employed by Pilbara Iron Ore and Hamersley Iron Ore were being denied their right to union representation in collective bargaining.

“Labor’s new IR laws must give workers genuine collective bargaining rights and the protection of a strong, independent umpire that has the power to be a circuit-breaker in cases where an intransigent employer refuses to negotiate or acts in bad faith,” Mr Lawrence said.

Train drivers employed by the two Rio Tinto subsidiaries want the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union to negotiate a new enterprise agreement following the expiry of Australian Workplace Agreements.

But after weeks of stalling tactics, the company said in August that it would have no more discussions with the union over improved pay and conditions.

Workers have voted in a secret ballot to take protected industrial action over their claim for better pay and conditions.

“Pilbara Iron Ore and Hammersely Iron Ore have been openly hostile to their employees’ democratic wish to involve their union in collective bargaining for a new agreement,” Mr Lawrence said.

“The company is another major employer that is continuing to use what remains of Work Choices to deny workers their rights.

“This case shows the need for a strong, independent umpire to bring the parties together and to protect workers’ rights.

“The two employers still have the option of avoiding industrial action if they agree to begin genuine negotiations with employees and their union.”