SYDNEY, July 26 (Reuters) - Global miner Rio Tinto lost a legal battle when a Federal Court ruled that a non-union collective agreement at its Pilbara iron ore operations was not valid, casting doubt over similar accords at rivals such as BHP Billiton , newspapers said.
The court sided with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, which argued that a deal struck with a group of employees in 2008 was invalid, giving unions a greater role in future wage and contract negotiations, the Australian and the Australian Financial Review said on Tuesday.
The ruling comes as BHP Billiton is already struggling to end a strike at its Escondida mine in Chile, the world’s biggest copper mine. It also faces industrial action by Australian coal workers at its BHP-Mistubishi Alliance collieries.
Australia is facing what employers say is its worst period of industrial unrest in decades, with disputes hitting airlines, ports and mines as unions use an unprecedented resources boom and labour shortage to fight for a greater share of profits.
Monday’s ruling means worker contracts since 2008 were invalid and the unions have to be given a role in new negotiations, the Australian quoted a union official as saying.
“This could affect 1500 to 2000 people across Rio’s operations it could also flow on to the likes of BHP as well because they made their agreements on the same basis,” Gary Wood, a top union official told the paper.