Mines at Russell Vale and Wongawilli are expected to grind to a halt today as hundreds of unpaid workers withdraw labour from Gujarat NRE.
By late yesterday the company had offered no guarantee it would pay its workers as a midnight deadline loomed.
Much of the focus of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has now fallen on the Australian Tax Office, which has issued a garnishee order that would see NRE’s tax bill – more than $8million – prioritised over the millions of dollars in wages, unpaid entitlements and super owed to about 500 mineworkers.
CFMEU south-western district vice-president Bob Timbs called on the ATO to drop the order, saying the Commonwealth’s claims should come second to the wages of coalminers who had worked for more than a month without pay.
Union members voted last Friday to withdraw their labour if management could not offer a wages guarantee by midnight last night.
Mr Timbs said mineworkers had not taken the decision lightly, but were moved to action after last week’s shareholders’ meeting – in which Jindal Steel and Power was voted in as majority shareholder – yielded no clarity on the wages question.
“Our members at Gujarat NRE’s operations have been nothing if not patient with management,” Mr Timbs said.
“They are committed to ensuring that Russell Vale and Wongawilli mines are viable concerns and were patient with a management that has asked for patience but offered no guarantees of when their wages would be paid.
“Given the recent majority acquisition and new investment into Gujarat by Jindal Steel and Power, workers kept working allowing another week for management to offer any clarity on wages owed but still there was no word – just the assumption that they will work for free for another week.
“Workers cannot support their families and keep their homes with this uncertainty.”
Gujarat NRE did not respond to many of the Illawarra Mercury’s questions on the subject – including the impact of the stoppage on the company – but issued a short statement late yesterday.
‘‘The company is making every endeavour to pay all workers at both its mines their wages and money owing to them,’’ the statement said.
‘‘No specific date for payment can be set at this stage, except to say that they will be made as soon and as early as is possible.
‘‘Discussions with the Australian Tax Office are still ongoing and these will need to be finalised before payment can be confirmed.’’