Role and Achievements

The Union was first federally registered in 1915 as the Australasian Coal & Shale Employees Federation (ACSEF). A series of amalgamations in the 1990s, including with the Federated Mine Mechanics Association (FMMA) and the Federated Engine Drivers & Firemens Association (FEDFA), expanded the union. After a further series of amalgamations with construction and forestry industry unions, we became known as the Mining & Energy Division of the CFMEU.

Major historic achievements

These include:

  • The 35 hour week – first won by Broken Hill mineworkers in 1920 – something never won by the majority of the private sector in Australia where standard hours are generally 38 or more per week. The coal industry won the 35 hour week in 1970.
  • Industry superannuation – in 1941 coal mineworkers won retirement at age 60 on a defined benefit. It was many decades before the majority of private industry provided pensions or superannuation for ordinary workers.
  • Portable long service leave – won by coal mineworkers in 1949. Provision of 13 weeks pay after 8 years of service – in the industry, not with a particular employer – is still superior to that achieved in most other Australian industry

Active involvement in the mining industry

The CFMEU and its predecessors have always taken an active role in all aspects of the mining industry - from wages and safety through to investment and marketing. Unlike many other unions, the CFMEU has not concentrated solely on wages and conditions.

The union has sought to extend the rights of workers to control their working life. There is a recognition that, with an increasingly internationalised industry (both in investment and in sales) the union must play an active role in influencing the parameters of that international market if it is to protect working people and to ensure that the national interest is served.

Sometimes, the union is criticised for doing that for which it is justifiably proud. In a 1997 study of the black coal industry, the National Institute of Labour Studies (commissioned by the Rio Tinto company) said that the problems with the industry were that workers were highly paid, that there was not enough UNPAID overtime, and that not enough workers resigned each year! All these are indicators of an effective union and a workforce that is secure in its rights.

Site-specific contributions

Issues over which the union bargains at a site level include:

  • working hours, including extended shift lengths
  • manning/staffing levels
  • meal breaks
  • training and skill development
  • application of company policies and procedures
  • productivity bonus
  • overtime rates and allowances
  • annualised salaries
  • use of contractors - including for entire operation

The CFMEU enables and encourages a wide variety of working conditions and arrangements to suit specific sites. CFMEU members work all types of rosters from 7 hours per day, 5 days per week through to continuous rosters providing shift lengths up to 12.5 hours long.

Pay rates vary from around $1,600 per week to close to well over $2,500 per week - a wide level of variation reflecting mine performance. There is no other industry with such flexibility.

The struggle continues today

The role of the union in protecting and furthering the interests of its members is ongoing. Some of the issues the union continues to fight for includes:

  • the finalisation of reforms to the industry long service leave scheme that will maintain industry portability and the relatively high level of entitlement under the scheme.
  • continuing to engage with the Commonwealth and State Governments over issues to relating to mine safety to ensure the strongest possible laws continue to apply.
  • advocating the position of workers in national and international forums concerned with action to combat climate change.
  • campaigning against multinational mining companies that would flout or seek to undermine established conditions of employment and rights of employees.
  • seeking to unionise workers in the mining industry who were previously prevented from having a collective agreement due to the operation of laws promoting individual contracts.
  • providing members with expert assistance and advice in collective bargaining with their employers.