Hundreds of out-of-pocket Gujarat NRE Coking Coal miners have been told their company has no money to pay them for at least the next three weeks.
On Monday, hundreds of Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) members from Russell Vale and Wongawilli mines attended lengthy union meetings at the Fraternity Club, after they were told last Wednesday there was no guarantee they would be paid in coming weeks.
Workers have not been paid their wages since September 18 and their superannuation contributions have not been paid since March.
According to one employee at the meeting who did not wish to be named, the workers were told by Gujarat's mine manager their situation would "remain unchanged" for at least the next three weeks, until a shareholders meeting on October 16.
He said this would come as a huge blow to nearly 400 CFMEU members, as well as hundreds of other Gujarat staff.
"People are stressed - we have blokes who are big rough, tough coalminers in tears," he said.
"They have kids to feed and families to look after and there are people who can't even afford to put petrol in their cars."
At the October 16 meeting, shareholders are scheduled to vote whether to allow the Indian steel giant, Jindal Steel and Power, to acquire up to 53.63 per cent of the voting power in Gujarat NRE.
This would mean Jindal would effectively be able to take control of the Illawarra company, and be required to pay workers leave, superannuation and wage entitlements.
Should the resolution not pass on October 16, workers were advised by union representatives that Gujarat NRE could go into liquidation, which would mean their entitlements would have to be claimed through the federal and industrial courts.
This view is also held by BDO Corporate Finance, which outlines its views in a report commissioned by Gujarat and published on the Australian Securities Exchange website.
The report says if the resolution does not go ahead, Gujarat will be unlikely to find an alternative funding source in time to refinance debts, which could lead to the company being in default and possibly being placed into administration.
For now, mine workers have been left to decide on their own whether to continue working without pay.
The Mercury was told that the CFMEU had informed members it would not authorise any industrial action because it was up to the conscience of each man to decide whether they would work without pay in the coming weeks.
"They don't want to say to a bloke that he must go home, and then he can't pay his mortgage or look after his kids when he has the option to go into work with the thought that in six weeks' time he'll get his back pay," the worker said.
Workers were also told at the union meeting that Gujarat NRE would allow those who could secure other casual work to take leave without pay until they could return to their paid position.
In a statement sent to the Mercury yesterday, Gujarat's executive chairman Arun Jagatramka apologised for any hardship being experienced by his company's workforce.
A Gujarat spokesman said the company was attempting to gain further financing so that all workers and staff could be paid "as soon as possible and before the general meeting scheduled for October 16".
The spokesman said the proposed share deal with Jindal had the support of the major shareholders and action was being taken to prevent the company going into liquidation.
A statement from a CFMEU spokesman confirmed the issues facing union members were "difficult and complex with no immediate resolution reached [yesterday]".
He said the union meetings were made difficult by "the lack of information readily available from the company and a lack of prior consultation made by Gujarat to the union as to the company's current financial situation".
He said the CFMEU's national executive would meet with district officials tomorrow.