Wollongong Coal miners sacked after refusing pay cut

Wongawilli miners Pete Broadhead, Steve Drain, CFMEU district vice-president Bob Timbs and Joe Kirkwood are facing drastic cuts to their wages. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Wongawilli miners Pete Broadhead, Steve Drain, CFMEU district vice-president Bob Timbs and Joe Kirkwood are facing drastic cuts to their wages. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

KATE McILWAIN:

More than 140 workers from Wongawilli mine are expected to be left without a job after voting to reject massive pay cuts and loss of work conditions.

It took less than 30 minutes for about 100 Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) members to unanimously vote down their company’s "ridiculous, unrealistic" pay offer at a 6am meeting at Wongawilli Hall.

They were then told to report immediately to collect their redundancy papers and clear out their lockers.

By 7.30am, the first of more than 100 men and women were driving home jobless.

"That’s it, we’re done and dusted," one young man said. "I’ve given ‘em five years of service and they just marched us up the hill and got rid of us."

CFMEU district vice president Bob Timbs said about 105 union members had lost their jobs, but estimated at least 140 people - counting deputies and other professional staff - would be made redundant from the mine.

The Wongawilli job losses follow 35 redundancies at Wollongong Coal’s Russell Vale mine, meaning the company has shed almost 180 workers in recent weeks.

The redundancies follow a March roof collapse at the mine, which buried an expensive piece of longwall equipment and forced the company to revert to a less productive method.

With its workforce slashed, it is believed the company will keep about 17 day shift workers on site to do minimal development work for at least the next year.

Despite several weeks of negotiations over pay and conditions in an effort to save as many jobs as possible, Mr Timbs said his members had been given no choice but to vote down the company’s offer.

In addition to drastic pay cuts, he said Wollongong Coal had also proposed detrimental changes to conditions including shift arrangement, overtime, leave provisions, carers leave, accident pay and bonuses.

‘‘It would have given us one of the worst enterprise agreements in the coal industry, and would have lowered the wages to 1970s or 80s wages," he said.

Wollongong Coal says it will issue a statement late on Thursday afternoon.

More to come.

EARLIER: BEN LANGFORD:

Illawarra mine workers and their families are bracing for the bad news that more than 100 jobs could be cut at Wollongong Coal, as workers at the Wongawilli mine decide this morning whether to accept drastic cuts to their wages.

The Mercury understands that about 110 jobs are on the chopping block at Wongawilli, previously the more profitable of Wollongong Coal's two mines.

How many jobs will go hinges on the outcome of a meeting of workers at the Wongawilli Hall on Thursday morning, when the miners will vote on a new 12-month enterprise agreement which would result in most workers' wages being cut by 25-30 per cent.

For some, the cut will be deeper, particularly those relying on weekend penalty rates to boost their income. Other conditions are also set to be reduced, as the company finds itself unable to cut coal at Russell Vale, and with a longwall machine buried in a rockfall at Wongawilli.

The sinking price of coal has led several mines across Australia to close or cut jobs, making it harder for retrenched miners to find work elsewhere.

One worker at Russell Vale said several miners arrived at work on Monday to be told they had been selected for a forced redundancy and to go and clean out their lockers and leave immediately.

He said the mood among the men was one of bleak resignation.

"The men are just beaten down; they've been thrashed that much over the past few years," he said.

"You'll have 120 coalminers looking for a job come Friday morning."

Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union district vice-president Bob Timbs said the 35 jobs at Russell Vale were not as bad as the 45 he had feared would go, but were hard to bear.

"It's the aftermath of not being able to mine coal, as a result of not being able to win [planning] approval," he said.

"We hope that with this round of redundancies they will be able to stabilise."

Wollongong Coal chief operating officer David Stone said he understood it was a tough time to lose your job in the coal industry.

Wollongong Coal chief operating officer David Stone. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Wollongong Coal chief operating officer David Stone. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

"With the state of the current coal climate, taking a redundancy and trying to find another job in this climate would be difficult," he said.

The company was not willing to comment further on Wednesday, saying it would make a statement after the Wongawilli meeting.

If the company proposal is accepted, there is no guarantee the Wongawilli operation will be brought up to full capacity in the near future.

The company plans to expand into its Wonga South area, but no application is ready for lodging with planning authorities.

After the application, a lengthy assessment process would follow before any decision was made.

Related stories: 

Wollongong Coal miners face wage, job cuts

Wollongong Coal looks to cut costs; jobs on the line

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