Monday, March 21, 2011

Workers rally for local jobs from mining boom

[This article by Alex Bainbridge and Sarah Ross was written for Green Left Weekly #873.]

About 8000 people marched on the Western Australian parliament on March 15 to demand more local jobs from the resource export boom.

The Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and Maritime Union of Australia all mobilised big contingents for the protest.

Manufacturing employers also supported the rally. Local workshops are sitting idle while billions of dollars of infrastructure is being imported for the mining and offshore oil and gas industries.

Unions called for supply contracts to go to WA companies. They drew inspiration from an agreement between Chevron and the Canadian provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador that requires all fabrication for its oil and gas project to be done there.

The rally slogan was, “WA jobs from WA resources: what can be made here, should be made here” and workers chanted “Our rocks, our gas, our jobs”.

Union officials, MPs and employers focused on how large-scale minerals and resources projects in the state had not boosted employment.

Socialist Alliance WA Convener Sam Wainwright told Green Left Weekly that the unions should demand social objectives in any local content agreements.

“We know that getting local content doesn’t stop a contract from going to the lowest paying local employer. We need guarantees around apprenticeship ratios, Indigenous employment and union access.

“The AMWU, ETU and MUA should be congratulated for securing work and training for Aboriginal communities where the state government has failed. This process should be a stepping stone to more public control and ownership over the resource industries.”

But there was also another dynamic. The status of 457 visa holders was not the focus of the rally, yet CFMEU WA secretary Kevin Reynolds accused Chinese migrant workers of undermining workplace conditions.

He blamed migrant workers’ substandard working conditions on the workers themselves, instead of putting the blame on exploitative bosses or government policies.

Wainwright said: “Any big expansion of local fabrication is going to require more migrant workers anyway, whether from interstate or overseas.

“Unions need to demand immediate permanent residency rights for foreign migrant workers instead of 457 visas, as well as join them to the union. That’s the only way to deal with that issue.”

Liberal Premier Colin Barnett also spoke. Incredibly he claimed, “There is no resources boom” and defended the record of his government, which places few conditions on the mining industry.

Unions have called for more rallies to press their “WA jobs from WA resources” campaign.