Minister for the Illawarra John Ajaka says the state and federal governments will do ‘‘whatever is necessary’’ to support Gujarat NRE Coking Coal workers should they lose their jobs in coming weeks.
The workers have now entered their fourth week without pay, as they wait to find out whether a planned takeover of the Illawarra mining company will go ahead next week.
If the deal for Indian industry giant Jindal Steel to become the company’s majority shareholder does not go ahead, the miners’ union believes there is a possibility Gujarat NRE will be forced into administration to cover its costs, leaving hundreds of Illawarra residents without jobs.
In Wollongong yesterday to launch a tourism campaign and speak at a development conference, Mr Ajaka said ensuring employment stability was his first priority for the region.
‘‘I worry about anybody whose employment is affected,’’ he said.
‘‘Youth unemployment is a huge factor. So, when you hear of anybody whose job is in jeopardy, obviously I have huge concerns over that.
‘‘I’m confident that my government will undertake whatever is necessary to be able to assist [Gujarat NRE workers], and I’m confident the Commonwealth government will as well.’’
Mr Ajaka said he was unable to comment further on the mining company’s financial situation, as he was ‘‘seeking a briefing’’ yesterday.
However, he said he was aware Keira MP Ryan Park – whose electorate includes NRE’s Russell Vale mine – had plans to speak to him about what the NSW government could do to support workers.
‘‘I find that a little bit extraordinary, that a Labor MP is making demands on our government to look at it, which we will do,’’ Mr Ajaka said.
‘‘What I’d like to see is the Labor MPs speak to their federal colleagues.
‘‘Let’s get rid of the carbon tax first and foremost [because] that’s had a huge effect on the Illawarra.’’
Mr Park said he would not ‘‘play politics’’ by placing blame for the situation on the carbon tax or any other government action.
‘‘This is too important and it’s a commercial decision that has come about because of the nature of the industry and actions by the company,’’ he said.
‘‘There have been issues with this mine for some time now.
‘‘As the Minister for the Illawarra, I would expect Mr Ajaka not to play politics and to sit down with myself and anybody else – whether that is federal, local or other state MPs – to work out what we can do to support the workers until we get some decision about the future of [Gujarat NRE].’’
Mr Park has asked the NSW Premier and Treasurer to offer Gujarat’s unpaid workers flexibility when it comes to rates, power and phone bills or other government-related payments.