Helensburgh miner's pay hopes dashed

As Helensburgh Metropolitan Coal workers voted in a secret ballot over an industrial dispute, the company sent all employees a letter encouraging them to accept a reduced pay offer.

In the letter, signed by Peabody Energy chief operations officer George Schuller, the company  urged workers to seek an early resolution to the weeks of industrial action at the mine, which resulted in lockouts by the company and a 24-hour picket at the mine entrance, set up by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union. 

Peabody engaged the Australian Electoral Commission to facilitate the enterprise agreement vote by secret ballot which was held yesterday and today. 

Helensburgh miners to reject pay deal

In the letter, Mr Schuller said the company faced extremely tough market conditions.

‘‘As you are aware there has been a sharp and sustained decline in global coal prices over the last 12 months,’’ Mr Schuller said. 

The union said its proposal of a 4per cent wage increase in exchange for a 4per cent sacrifice on  bonuses was in line with other Illawarra coalmines.

But the company said it was not in a position to sustain an offer of an annual wage increase of 4per cent when coal prices had dived more than 50per cent since 2011.

Peabody’s best offer contained no pay  increase this year, and a 2per cent increase in each of the following two years, plus bonus components.

Mr Schuller said the company had done the best it could ‘‘to  build a fair, reasonable and responsible offer that is consistent with prevailing and expected market conditions’’.

‘‘We want to conclude the negotiations with our employees as soon as possible and enable the mine to resume normal production for the benefit of all,’’ Mr Schuller said. 

‘‘I am concerned that the protracted industrial action risks a situation where employees will lose more in unpaid wages than can be recovered even under the most optimistic negotiated outcome.’’

The union rejected Peabody’s reduced pay offer earlier this month and expected its members would reject the company’s proposed enterprise agreement.

Peabody also defended its decision to impose a lockout of the mine during the industrial action.

‘‘The restrictive bans on the number of cuts or metres at the face and diesel bans, proves uneconomical to operate the mine when bans are carried out by the workforce,’’ Mr Schuller said.