Restoring workers’ power at South32

Workers at South32 are uniting to stand up against unfair conditions.

By Adam Woodage, organiser, WA

Mining company South32 is notorious for attacking workers’ conditions and rates of pay. This year, our members who work for the company wanted to negotiate an Enterprise Agreement (EA), so the ETU wrote to the company to invite them to the bargaining table. The site for electrical and instrumentation has not been under an EA for at least 30 years. Instead the employees have been on common law contracts.

South32 not only rejected the offer to bargain, but instead was secretly planning to attack the workers’ conditions. Overnight the company stripped away additional superannuation, income protection, mortgage benefits and private health care benefits.

The ETU kept speaking to the workforce and managed to get the support of the majority through a petition. We showed the workers that the CEO was earning a sum of $6.9 million dollars and others on the board had received 30% pay rises.

We wrote again to the company asking for them to bargain with us, but again they said no.

Then, with the majority of employees signing a petition to bargain, the ETU went to the Fair Work Commission seeking a determination that the employees want to bargain.

Incredibly, South32 still refused to bargain and vowed to spend huge amounts of money fighting this decision in court, instead of giving its workers back what they ripped away. It has taken the unprecedented step of asking the Fair Work Commission to reveal the names of employees who signed petitions. The ETU has not seen a company make this demand before and is defending its members’ privacy.

A hearing was held in respect of South32’s request for the employees’ names and we are awaiting an outcome.

This company has shown its true colours, and because of that, workers have realised that they need to organise to get what they want. The Union density on this site for the ETU has never been higher and other unions are quickly following our lead. We won’t stop until these workers get a much better deal. Stay tuned and never stop fighting for your rights.

Pictured: Adam Woodage talks to ETU members

This article was publised on 21 December 2020.