Miners from Gujarat NRE Coking Coal have been forced to accept supermarket vouchers to feed their families as they enter their fourth consecutive week without pay.
Hundreds of workers at the Illawarra coal mining company have not been paid since September 18, when the company ran out of money for wages after months of financial problems.
CFMEU lodge secretary at Russell Vale mine Wilf O’Donnell on Tuesday spoke out about the pressure on his members, saying many were struggling to meet mortgage payments, fill their cars with petrol and put food on their family’s tables.
He said the situation had become so dire he had spent the morning securing $36,000 worth of supermarket vouchers with union funds, which would be handed out in $200 lots for men who couldn’t afford food.
For one Russell Vale worker, who did not want to be named, the vouchers came just in time for him and his wife, who had run out of money to buy nappies and baby wipes for their young children.
‘‘I’ve got a missus and two kids that are under my care, I’m the sole income earner in the family so it’s really hit us hard,’’ he said.
‘‘We live basically in a week-to-week situation, so this really hurts.’’
The miner said he was worried about being unable to pay rent or make car repayments in the coming weeks, and found it ‘‘embarrassing’’ to have to turn to others for help.
‘‘I was brought up in the old school where I like to provide for my family, so it’s embarrassing and really hard to turn to your family in times like this because they can’t understand why, if you’ve got a good job, that your employer is doing this to you.
‘‘It’s been quite emotional with me and my wife, because this morning for example we ran out of wipes and you can’t get nappies, so thank god we’ve got this $200 voucher payment.’’
Fronting the media after yesterday’s union meeting at the Fraternity Club, Mr O’Donnell spoke about the different hardships faced by his members.
He said financial stress had been exacerbated because many workers had their weekend penalties and hours cut earlier this year.
‘‘I get phone calls at all hours of the day and night, it’s putting families under stress, there’s financial stress and [it’s] putting stress on marriages,’’ Mr O’Donnell said.
‘‘It’s a situation where blokes have no nest egg left – they have run it down over the past six months because the company has been having difficulties and then all of a sudden the finances have just been cut off like turning off a water tap.’’
He said he believed workers had become stuck in the middle of a stand-off between two companies – Jindal Steel and Power and Gujarat – who were playing a ‘‘power game’’ and vying for control of the mines.
‘‘It appears to me to be two companies are just trying to get the best deal for their business, which is their right, but it’s my members who are stuck in the middle,’’ he said.
‘‘They can’t look after their kids, can’t put petrol in their car to get to work, can’t pay their mortgages and it’s very difficult for us to accept that in good grace.’’
Mr O’Donnell said he hoped the situation would soon be resolved soon.
The CFMEU has secured a one-off emergency payment by brokering a deal between the Industry Long Service Leave Corporation and the mining company.
It is expected workers will be paid about $1200 each this week, with people facing extreme hardship to receive the money first.