Patient Wollongong Coal miners let go

Unhappy officials Bob Timbs, CFMEU Southern Vice President Mining and Energy with Steve Drain, Wongawilli Lodge President outside the mines entry. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Unhappy officials Bob Timbs, CFMEU Southern Vice President Mining and Energy with Steve Drain, Wongawilli Lodge President outside the mines entry. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Wollongong Coal miners sacked after refusing pay cut

Wongawilli miners face grim news of job cuts

"Done and dusted" were the galling words that echoed through Wongawilli Village on Thursday morning as scores of sacked miners gathered their gear and drove out of Wollongong Coal's gates for the last time.

It took less than 30 minutes for Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union 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 the mine office to find out who would be spared.

By 7.30am, the first of more than 100 men and women - some of whom had just finished night shift - 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."

Another said: "I guess I have to go home and tell my children that I don't have a job."

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.

Mr Timbs said the devastating news was exacerbated after hundreds of workers went almost two months without pay last year as their company - formerly Gujarat NRE Coking Coal - struggled with mounting debts.

"We went through a lot of bloodshed last year, and all the boys worked tirelessly to make the mines survive and to get to this stage now through no fault of their own - it doesn't sit real well at all," he said.

The redundancies follow a March roof collapse at Wongawilli which buried an expensive piece of longwall mining equipment and forced the company to revert to an older, less productive mining 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, 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, carer's 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.

"Why would you go and work in one of the most hostile workplace conditions in the country, when you can go and work outside in the fresh air for the same rate?"

One miner asked why they would they work in a mine for $20 an hour, when they could get the same at Bunnings.

"The most frustrating thing is that we went through so much last year, not being paid and we remained loyal in the belief this was going to work, so just to be treated like this is so disheartening," he said.

He said some of his workmates had already contemplated selling their homes to make ends meet.

"To be treated with such contempt by these people, when you have done nothing but been a committed worker who did the right thing - it's just affecting lives comprehensively."

The CFMEU will hold a financial and careers advice workshop for all Wollongong Coal workers who have been made redundant at its Kembla Grange office on Wednesday at 9am.

STATEMENT FROM WOLLONGONG COAL

Securing Our Region’s Mining Heritage

Wollongong Coal has all but finalised its review of the business to ensure the long-term viability of its two Illawarra mines.

The company today announced that there would be a total of 152 job cuts to the 

workforce following the voluntary and compulsory redundancy process across 

Russell Vale and Wongawilli collieries and within the corporate area.

Wollongong Coal Chairman Jasbir Singh said it was a difficult time for the workers 

but it was necessary to downsize the workforce to bring the collieries in line with 

current market conditions and production levels.

‘‘While these reductions in jobs are essential at the moment, Wollongong Coal is committed to further developing and operating their underground operations, despite 

these unprecedented economic times which sees current global coking coal market 

prices at historical lows,” he said.

Mr Singh said the principal shareholder of Wollongong Coal, Jindal Steel and Power, 

a global Indian steel and power producer, had confidence in the future of its two Australian mines having invested $290 million in the company to date, including $200 

million in the 12 twelve months.

Wollongong Coal’s Chief Operations Officer David Stone said the company would 

continue to employ 256 people within its Russell Vale and Wongawilli operations.

“We intend on providing a platform for future success with a passionate drive 

to give the business the capability to deliver world class teams and best in class underground operations,” he said.

Mr Stone said voluntary redundancy closed on 23rd May with 27 employees accepted 

at the two Illawarra mines last week.

“At Russell Vale a further 23 individuals were made redundant, this included eight 

staff and 15 underground workers. ‘

“Our intent at Russell Vale is to focus on the development process while we await 

state government approval for longwall 6 and were currently implementing systems, 

processes and the required operational behaviours to make a step change in our 

performance,” he said.

“This enables us to maintain as many workers as possible engaged awaiting longwall 

re-commencement.” 

He said Wongawilli Collieries ‘Old Nebo’ workings had been the most effected by the 

job cuts with 102 employees made compulsory redundant. 

 “We have been working hard with the workforce and their representatives to put 

together workable conditions that allows the company to keep the majority of the 

workforce, unfortunately this option has been voted down today,” he said.

“In an effort to mitigate the effects we are keeping one development crew and the 

associated support personnel to continue with the transitioning from a longwall 

operation to a full extraction pillar operation.”

“The future of the operation will focus on the successful development and 

implementation of the Wongawilli South Project and we are currently working hard on 

a detailed approvals process that will provide a long sustainable project.''

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