Australian Society for the Study of Labour History
Place of publication
Given the scale of Rio Tinto's battles with the Australialn union movement during the roll out of its deunionisation program throughout its diverse miniing and manufacturing operations, there is much to be learnt from examining how the company first introduced its 'staff' employment system at its Tiwai Point smelter in New Zealand in 1991. Hamersley Iron in 1993, and at its Comalco-run Bell Bay and Weipa operations during 1994-96. More importantly, however, it is worth knowing why the company was so successful in deunionising previously 'soldered on' union territory. Though no doubt assisted by sympathetic legal, political and economic environments, it was ultimately the demonstrationl of managerial strength and determination, coupled with a hesitant union leadership, which led to the success of the company's deunionisation strategy. As the union movemenlt makes tenative steps to attract workers back to the fold, there are valuable lessons to be gained from analysing these momentous events which constitute such a transformational period in the history of Australian industrial relations.