Strikes will disrupt the Wongawilli coal mine for seven days from Monday morning as workers try and overturn what the union calls a “rip-off” by the labour hire arrangements at the colliery.
But the company that manages the mine says the action is part of a “political agenda” ahead of the next federal election.
Close to 100 workers operate the colliery, outsourced by owner Wollongong Coal to CAS Mining.
The casual workforce wants to negotiate a new enterprise agreement, as well as transitions to permanent work agreements, with better pay.
CAS says it does not receive enough funding from Wollongong Coal to meet these demands. But the Construction Forestry Mining Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU) says casual contracting is “out of control” and Wongawilli workers are the worst paid in the district.
A series of 24-hour stoppages will last for a week. The dispute has looming since Wollongong Coal sacked its workforce at Wongawilli and Russell Vale mines – and re-opened Wongawilli with casuals.
“Wongawilli mine is a classic labour hire rip-off,” CFMMEU district vice-president Bob Timbs said.
“Wongawilli miners work in some of the most difficult underground coal mining conditions in the region. They are not asking for anything extravagant. They deserve job security and pay and conditions in line with industry standards.
“We are calling on Wollongong Coal and its parent company Jindal Steel and Power to take responsibility for the fair treatment of local workers.”
CAS business manager Jesse Yvanoff said the union’s demands would exceed funding provided by Wollongong Coal – so if CAS were to meet the claims, it would go out of business.
My Yvanoff said the strike action was just part of industrial bargaining.
“I’m ambivalent on the action. It’s just part of the bargaining process,” he said.
“I think we’ve been caught up in a national political agenda, particularly from the Labor side.
“The timing of it all suggests we’re caught up in a bigger agenda than just the mine site.”
My Yvanoff said without additional funding from Wollongong Coal, CAS could not meet the demands for higher rates of pay.
“We would go out of business,” he said.
CAS was offering conversion to full-time contracts for one year.
Mr Timbs said Wongawilli miners were “hundreds of dollars worse off” than miners in nearby operations.
CFMMEU national president Tony Maher this week named Wongawilli while identifying casualisation as an election issue.