Maritime Union members showed their support by rallying with Port Kembla Coal Terminal Workers Monday morning, after they were locked out for the first time in its history.
An ongoing pay dispute led management of the terminal (PKCT) to suspend its workforce without pay for four days from 7pm Sunday following industrial action by union members over Christmas.
A 24-hour picket line has been setup at the entrance to the terminal at the corner of Spring Hill Road and Port Kembla Road with hand-made signs and placards clearly visible to passing traffic.
“Captain Risky,” “Wage and conditions going $outh 32” and “Culture change means termination” were held high among union flags while protest chants were loud and clear.
“We are calling on the shareholders to intervene, to sit down with us and negotiate a fair and reasonable agreement,” CFMEU southwest district vice president Bob Timbs said. “The current bargaining committee they have put in place … just cant get the job done. It appears to have become personal to them.”
PKCT is owned and operated by local coal mining companies South 32, Glencore, Peabody Energy, Centennial Coal and Wollongong Coal and has been negotiating a new agreement with the CFMEU since 2015.
Young father Ross White has worked at the terminal for six years and feels devalued by his employer, he said it’s taking it’s toll on family life.
“We thought we were getting somewhere with regards to the enterprise agreement,” Mr White said.
Maritime Union member Aaron Parker came to the picket line to show his solidarity as he said “touch one, touch all”.
“If it goes through a port like Port Kembla it’ll go through everyone. If one company gets away with something as horrible as this each company will try it out as well,” Mr Parker said.
The lockout is an unprecedented escalation of the dispute as PKCT is seeking to reduce operating costs as it faces record falls in production rates. The company wants to reduce generous superannuation and sick leave benefits and remove historic union consultation and dispute powers as it moves from self-managed work teams to ones under management direction.
However, since March, the CFMEU has staged more than 50 protected industrial action notices and hundreds of hours of work bans.
PKCT operations manager John Gorman told Fairfax Media the long-term fate of the terminal was at stake as major coal companies increasingly opted to export coal through Newcastle due to its more competitive operating costs.
The company, which at its peak was loading more than 14 million tonnes of coal a year, has seen its forecast throughput for 2018 fall by almost half to just 5.1 million tonnes – the lowest throughput ever on record.
"I've been telling my employees now for many, many months it is absolutely critical for our business to right now set up the safe, sustainable operation of PKCT so it's here in the long term," Mr Gorman said.
"There are some significant risks to that at the moment and we need to be doing everything we can - and having a competitive enterprise agreement is a significant element of that."