Wongawilli miners will strike for at least 14 days if their employer does not meet their demands for job security and better working conditions.
About 80 Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union members voted to extend industrial action from one to two weeks on Monday, the first day they walked off the job.
The workers formed a picket line at the West Dapto mine and were joined by federal and state Labor MPs.
The casual workforce wants to negotiate a new enterprise agreement and transition to permanent work agreements with better pay.
CFMEU district vice-president Bob Timbs said the workers were in for the “long haul”.
“We are fighting for wages and proper conditions for labour hire workers in the Illawarra,” he said. “Our members have been ripped off. We aren’t going to leave until we get what we deserve. We could stay for months.”
Close to 100 workers operate the colliery, outsourced by owner Wollongong Coal to CAS Mining. An Indian resources giant Jindal Steel and Power owns Wollongong Coal.
Mr Timbs said the workforce had been made casual in 2015 and “Wongawilli miners were the lowest paid on the South Coast”.
“Miners get up to $300 less a week with no annual or personal leave,” he said.
A miner, who did not want to be identified, said the cost of living had increased and workers needed to provide for their families.
“We can be told any day that we aren’t working anymore,” he said. “A lot of us have young families. They depend on our income.
“Christmas is a perfect example [of how being a casual is unfair]. Everyone is sitting at home getting paid and we are not. A lot of us are forced to come in and work.
“It is very frustrating to be paid less than workers at other mines considering the work we do at this pit is...a dangerous.”
Mr Timbs said CAS Mining were “happy to pass on the increase” but Jindal Steel refused to give the labour hire company the money.
“We have no alternative but to take action against CAS Mining,” he said. “It is part of the broken rules. It is why we need legislation changed to stop this type of behaviour.”
“I’m calling on Jindal Steel to step up, pass on the increases to CAS Mining and let us get back to work.”
CAS business manager Jesse Yvanoff told the Mercury that 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.
Whitlam MP Stephen Jones wants the dispute to be resolved industrially.
“We don’t want to see guys sitting out on strike,” he said. “We want to see them sitting around a table negotiating.
“Clearly they haven’t been able to reach a resolution.
“Our message to the owners and to the union is to get around a table and try and sort it out.”
Labor has committed to changing the law to make it illegal for companies to use labour hire to undercut workers.
“We will make it unlawful for labour hire to be used as an instrument to undermine the wages of workers,” Mr Whitlam said.
“You can’t have a situation where workers negotiate a collective agreement or they have an award and the day after that agreement is sorted, an employer can come in and remove half of its workforce and replace them with labour hire workers on a lower rate of pay. It is not fair.”