About 100 Illawarra coal train drivers who work for Pacific National Coal walked off the job at midday, and will not return until Sunday, as part of a statewide strike.
They are among up to 600 Pacific National Coal train drivers and other employees taking part in the 48-hour stoppage after a breakdown in negotiations between the company and the Rail, Tram and Bus Union.
During the stoppage Pacific National Coal will be unable to load, haul and unload its trains across NSW - including the Illawarra.
Pacific National said the 48-hour strike would stop the movement of 600,000 tonnes of coal worth about $50million.
The strike was called by the union after the two parties failed to resolve an ongoing pay dispute during mediation with the Fair Work Commission this week.
Rail, Tram and Bus Union regional organiser Ian Wyllie said about 100 train drivers, a dozen terminal operators and a number of office staff from the Illawarra were taking part in the industrial action.
A large number of those attended a ‘‘peaceful assembly’’ in JJ Kelly Park, Wollongong, from 1.30pm on Friday.
‘‘The negotiations with Pacific National Coal for a new enterprise agreement started in February last year,’’ Mr Wyllie said.
‘‘Pacific National in its wisdom decided to take a non-union agreement out to members, which was voted down by more than 80 per cent of them.
‘‘The company originally offered members an annual wage increase of 4 per cent each year over three years, but because an agreement was not reached by the end of January that has fallen to 3 per cent.
‘‘If an agreement is not reached by the end of this month, that will again fall to 2.5 per cent.’’
Mr Wyllie said it was not just a pay dispute. Workers were also concerned about ‘‘policy items’’ around issues like safety, and drug and alcohol testing.
‘‘There’s five items that haven’t been agreed to that the company would like to see as company policy, but we would like to see included in the enterprise agreement so that they can’t be changed without consultation,’’ he said.
Mr Wyllie said the company had taken a ‘‘stubborn’’ and ‘‘ bullying’’ approach to the negotiations.
‘‘Due to the company’s tactics we’ve had no option but to walk,’’ he said.
‘‘We’re hoping this stoppage demonstrates to the company that their employees are upset with them, and that they do want negotiations but only negotiations that are fair dinkum.’’
Pacific National Coal director David Irwin said the action came at a time when the coal industry was already experiencing considerable challenges.
“We view the RTBU’s notification of an additional 24-hour stoppage before taking the initial 24-hour stoppage as both irresponsible and unnecessary,’’ he said. ‘‘It does nothing to bring us closer to resolution on our enterprise agreement negotiations.
“In an environment where we are already seeing extensive job losses and mine closures amongst our customers, the RTBU seem determined to bring unnecessary detriment and economic harm to the coal industry including Pacific National’s customers, and the broader NSW economy.
“Our offer of consent arbitration remains on the table and we cannot understand why the RTBU is steadfastly refusing to accept what is a sure way to bring a quick end to this dispute.’’