The Government has taken aim at Opposition leader Bill Shorten for allegedly encouraging workers to break the law at a mine in Central Queensland, as the Fair Work Commission this week ordered a lengthy lockout at the mine be brought to an end.
Workers are set to return to the pit at the Oaky North mine after almost eight months of being locked out while owner Glencore and the CFMEU failed to agree to a new enterprise agreement.
Over 150 miners have been locked out of the mine for 230 days, but the Fair Work Commission has now ordered the lockout end after a two-day hearing.
The dispute has at times been ugly, with some union members charged with harassment, and Glencore criticised for allegedly using surveillance cameras to monitor employees outside the workplace.
Shorten has come under fire from the Government for allegedly encouraging bad behaviour from union members, after a secret recording was released this week of the Opposition leader speaking at Oaky North last October.
“We now have a situation where the laws of this land are being distorted, where they are being mutated, where they’re being metastasized like a cancer to undermine your existing conditions,” Shorten can be heard telling union members.
“We will change the laws if we form a government, or when we form a government.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull labelled Shorten “a fake” and “a class warrior,” and said any criticisms Labor made were over fair work legislation they helped create.
“He is trying to run his politics of envy, his faux class war,” the PM said in Question Time on February 27. “There he is, the great imposter, complaining about an industrial relations system that he created, and doing everything he can to encourage the militancy of people that threaten violence, not just against other workers, but against their children.
“He has no shame, no principle, no character.”
Shorten rejected the claim he approved of unlawful behaviour by the locked-out workers.
“I do not condone unlawful behaviour by workers, employers or, indeed, Liberal Party donors,” he said.
“What I said to the workers at Oaky – as I said at the National Press Club in January and as I’ve said at many of my public town hall meetings – is that the industrial relations system is being abused and distorted to disadvantage workers, to undermine collective bargaining and to weaken workplace safety.”
The CFMEU and Glencore came to an in-principle agreement on January 10, but this was subsequently voted down by workers. A new vote will take place on March 27, following the end of the lockout.
Nationals leadership hopeful George Christensen took some credit for ending the lockout in Parliament on Tuesday.
“I met with decent men from my electorate who were locked out by Glencore and just wanted to get back to work,” he said. “I impressed this upon Glencore in several meetings.”
Christensen was the only National to run against Michael McCormack earlier this week in the party room vote for a new leader, after Barnaby Joyce resigned amid a sexual harassment allegation, and unrelated allegations of breaches to the ministerial standards.