For the past six weeks, Gujarat NRE Coking Coal workers’ visits to the Fraternity Club have been clouded in uncertainty, usually ending in frustration at the lack of progress on when they would next be paid.
But last night, employees took a break from worrying about their money troubles as they gathered for an evening with their families at the Fairy Meadow club.
As their children partied on at a disco – put on as goodwill gesture by the club which has hosted several lengthy CFMEU meetings in recent weeks – workers and their partners could also relax thanks to an announcement by Gujarat NRE’s new managers promising to come good on a deal to save the troubled miner.
Russell Vale lodge secretary Wilf O’Donnell said the news that Jindal Steel would free up millions of dollars to keep Gujarat’s two Illawarra mines running and pay workers marked the end of weeks of uncertainty.
‘‘There’s still the fine details to be sorted out in the weeks to come, but in general everyone is a lot more optimistic and a lot happier,’’ he said.
‘‘We now have a new investor on board officially, according to the ASX announcement, and that gives us the chance to start fresh and try to work with the new owners to turn these into two very productive mines with a good, long-term future.
‘‘We’ve always had the hope that somehow between the union’s efforts and our own efforts our money would arrive, but this definitely means our entitlements will be arriving much sooner.
‘‘But the real party won’t start until the dollars drop into our accounts.’’
Despite a much more positive mood among the workforce overall, Mr O’Donnell said he had spoken to some workers who remained hesitant about trusting an employer which had kept them working without pay for so long.
‘‘I’ve heard some guys say ‘we’ve been mistreated for six months and we’re not going to trust these people until they prove their bonafides’,’’ he said.
‘‘But I think it was very helpful that Jindal made this announcement so quickly and didn’t delay it any longer, because that has helped the families a great deal by giving them a little bit of certainty.’’
The announcement was also welcomed by the Illawarra’s two federal Labor MPs, Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones.
‘‘Today’s announcement is positive news for the hundreds of workers and their families who have been doing it extremely tough over the past six weeks,’’ Ms Bird said.
Mr Jones said he hoped the company could now return to full operations and ‘‘trade their way out of difficulty as soon as possible’’.
NSW Labor MPs Ryan Park and Anna Watson ‘‘cautiously welcomed’’ Gujarat’s announcement, saying there were still ‘‘very sensitive times’’ to come in negotiations between the two sides.
They also praised the workers for sticking together during a difficult time and praised the leadership of union officials.
‘‘We highlight the fact that the Illawarra region has been very well served by the calm and determined leadership of the CFMEU’s Mining and Energy division officials Graham White and Bob Timbs,’’ Mr Park and Ms Watson said in a joint media release. ‘‘They and their fellow lodge officials are the unsung heroes of this difficult and protracted saga.’’