‘Broken dreams’: Appin mine contractors hit the street over wage cuts

“A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay” and “we all refuse to risk our lives underground for a mere $24/hr”.

They were the statements, written on separate placards, which summed up why more than 300 people gathered at Appin Park on Thursday morning. 

The 9am gathering was no morning picnic. Rather an assembly of Appin Colliery contractors, their families, supporters and state politicians in a union-led protest against the ongoing wage gap between permanent and contract workers at the South32 mine. 

The public demonstration was held amid concerns a new two-year, $50 million agreement between South32 and labour hire company Mastermyne – to supply miners at Appin – would hit contract workers hard.

Contractors have already had their wages cut by 40 per cent over the past two years, according to the union.

“This park’s full of broken dreams,” the CFMEU’s district vice-president, Bob Timbs, told the crowd. 

“We know you guys got a job in the industry, not because you woke up one morning and went ‘jeez, I might go and work in one of the most hostile, dangerous industries in the world because it’s going to be great fun’.

“You [have] done that because you wanted to make a good living, to support your family … and to put some money back into the community.

“South32 alone, with the help of Mastermyne and Delta, have broken your dreams.”

The miners were supported at Thursday’s rally by the Illawarra’s three state Labor MPs – Ryan Park (Keira), Paul Scully (Wollongong) and Anna Watson (Shellharbour).

Mr Park, Labor’s Illawarra spokesman told the crowd the region’s residents lived in one of the oldest coal mining districts in the country. 

The MP stressed he wouldn’t stand by and watch men and women “go a thousand metres underground and get paid the same amount that you can working at Bunnings”.

“We benefit from the work that you do each and every day,” he said. 

“Our quality of life is only because you extract that precious black diamond from the ground.”

Young and old, protesters took to the footpaths around the park precinct after a planned march down the main street was thwarted by police. 

A spokesman for South32 said the company engages contract labour at the Appin mine in order to “flexibly manage operational requirements as well as tasks which exceed the day-to-day needs of our core business activities, such as periods of intense project work and recovery work”.

South32 employs more than 1800 people, both employees and contractors, in the Illawarra.

“Commodities markets are cyclical and volatile. South32 is focussed on building a long-term sustainable business that endures market upswings and downswings,” the spokesman said.

“To remain a commercially viable business in the long-term, providing ongoing employment for both employees and contractors, South32 seek to enter into sustainable and responsible contracts.

“Our standard supply contracts require our suppliers to comply with all applicable legislation, including that related to labour.”

The Mercury has contacted Mastermyne for comment.

‘They breathe the same air, do the same work’

Former miner Paul Rossandich, who worked at the West Cliff Colliery for 34 years, has “seen all this before”.

“No one should work underground [with] a contractor on one wage and a permanent person on another wage – they breathe the same air and they do the same work,” Mr Rossandich, from Bombo, told the Mercury

The 68-year-old, who retired about eight years ago, was one of more than 300 people who rallied over wage inequality between permanent and contract workers in Appin on Thursday. 

Mr Rossandich was “fortunate enough to be a permanent employee” during his time underground and said the conditions and wages for current contractors were “just unacceptable”.

Retired miner Paul Rossandich, from Bombo, at Thursday's rally in Appin. Picture: Robert Peet

Retired miner Paul Rossandich, from Bombo, at Thursday's rally in Appin. Picture: Robert Peet

“I wouldn’t work down there,” he said.

“I know technology’s improved and everything but still it’s a hazardous and dangerous environment.” 

Having worked in many facets of mining, from pillar extraction to longwall, Mr Rossandich has “seen the good, the bad and the ugly”.   

“Now I’m seeing the ugly, the ugly, the ugly,” he said.

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