After months of uncertainty and living week to week because of Gujarat NRE Coking Coal's money troubles, the company's workers have been pushed almost to breaking point.
Staff working at the Illawarra miner's Russell Vale and Wongawilli collieries have not been paid since September 18 and are facing the prospect of weeks without pay after the company told miners it did not expect to have any money for wages for at least three more weeks.
At a union meeting on Monday, miners were told they had to make an unenviable choice: return to work in the hope of eventually being paid or take leave without pay and try to secure some part-time work to pay the bills.
One mine worker spoke to the Mercury on Tuesday about the heartbreaking situation he and his workmates faced.
He said more than half the employees he knew were not planning to return to work until they were paid.
"Most workers aren't going in," he said.
"And, like people said at the meeting [on Monday], at some point, some blokes aren't going to be able to work even if they want to, because they're not going to have the money to put petrol in their cars.
"Then they'll have no choice but to take unpaid leave."
With hardly any money in the bank and no certainty over when he would be paid next, the miner said he was stressed and worried about his future.
"This is all everyone talks about," he said.
"The morale has dropped and there's no way that people are going to work safely because no-one's mind is going to be on the job.
"And it's only going to get worse and more stressful as people run out of money week by week."
He said many workers were already under financial pressure, after several night and weekend shifts were changed in February and when their weekly hours were cut back in the middle of the year.
"A lot of the blokes have chewed through their savings and have more or less been living week to week, because they have had their shifts cut," he said.
"This situation is going to affect them the most because you can only survive for so long on what you've got.
"I have a mortgage and a car and I'm lucky to have family who are offering to help me out.
"But I've been screwed over by the cut-back in our shifts and hours so I haven't been able to save much money."
The worker also appealed to Gujarat NRE chairman Arun Jagatramka to give his colleagues some certainty about when they would next be paid, saying this would alleviate some of the pressure.
"We've all said all along that the thing they could do to help the most, that costs nothing, is to just be honest," he said.
"But until Wednesday last week, not even our union knew that NRE was out of money.
"If the company could just come forward and say whether, in two weeks, four weeks or even eight weeks, we would get paid and put that on paper, blokes' attitude would just change," he said.
"But everything is just in the unknown at the moment."
The miner said he had decided to speak to the Mercury about his situation because he was "fed up" with the way his company had been treating workers.
"We've all done the right thing for so long now," he said.
"But they've given us no support or no honesty and they didn't even tell us that they weren't going to be able to pay us.
"We were advised by the union not to go to the media ... but most blokes are just over it now, they've been pushed over the edge.
"I want to let people know what this company is like, because people shouldn't be able to do this."
The miner said the workers were hoping for a resolution after October 16, when shareholders will vote on whether to let Indian company Jindal Steel and Power take a majority shareholding.
However, the mine worker said even the best case scenario would bring further uncertainty.
"I would love nothing more than for Jindal to take over and have a change of management, because that's what we need," he said.
"The union told us that Jindal would be very interested in cutting costs, so we don't exactly know what will happen, but it's better than the other option, which would see [Gujarat] taken into administration.
"Then you'd have 400 blokes looking for work out there."
With this in mind, the mine worker said he had already started looking for work outside the Illawarra.
"I'm looking for work as we speak and I know a lot of other blokes are going to be doing the same thing," he said.
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