Strict Union rules still prevailed in Western Oz mines through the early nineties when I started drilling. Most underground mines still adhered to three, eight hour shifts.
I wanted to work twelve hours shifts like surface mines were beginning to bring in. It was a contentious issue back then. The wrong opinion could get you a busted head in a pub argument.
Constant strikes and go slows sapped our pays. Most strikes weren’t even for an improvement of our conditions anyway. We were expected to go out in sympathy for some other Union. Usually the Wharfies.
I’m all for the ‘workers’ standing up to ‘management’ in cases of unfair working conditions. Unfortunately, that wasn't on the program. We already had fantastic conditions and rates of pay. The Union Bully Boys had done the hard yards and were spinning their wheels with nothing much to do. They remembered the days of old when people respected their muscle and wanted to prove how powerful they still were.
We’d know when they planned to strike. The Union bosses would turn up on site with boats hooked on their cars and eskies in the boot. They’d vote to strike, knock everyone off, then go fishing. The miners got to sit at home, with no pay, and wait till they were told to go back to work. Union officials got paid out of the Union slush fund.
I was disgusted at this arrogant, traitorous behaviour. I said I’d never belong to a Union that treats members like this and never paid Union dues since. Even if my stance brought me grief from the odd Shop Steward, I’ve never bowed to Union pressure.
As contract drillers, we were used to being treated poorly and ignored. Even amongst other miners, we hold a position near the bottom of the hierarchy. Drilling only took place away from active mining areas since production always took precedence over exploration. Disused shafts and bricked up drives were our places of work. Insulated from the everyday running of the mine, sometimes we’d be forgotten about. One particular shift I remember, had a detonation planned outside of normal blasting times. The pressure wave, dust and smoke that swept around my body was an experience me and my offsider will never forget
(Like it? See - Part 6)