United strikers

MORE than 100 miners will go on strike today at Xstrata’s United longwall operation to pressure the company into including a job security clause and other conditions in a new enterprise agreement.

Blair Price

The strike at the Hunter Valley mine in New South Wales will halt coal production until 6:30am on Monday next week unless a deal is made, otherwise the striking workers will hold a meeting to decide the next course of action.

The Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union said around 110 workers would be made redundant when the mine closes on March 2010, but Xstrata plans to resume mining coal in the same lease in 2012.

The union said the job security clause would require contract workers to receive wages and conditions at least equivalent to permanent employees.

The clause will also seek to have Xstrata commit to maintaining the existing numbers of employees covered by the enterprise agreement.

It also aims to ensure the retention of skilled staff, in the event retrenchments become necessary.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Union general secretary Andrew Vickers told ILN its members had expressed a growing intolerance of the way the coal industry was embracing what he called “insecure labour”, such as contractors, fixed-term employees and casual employees who work for three straight years on the same roster as permanent workers.

But with the introduction of the Rudd government’s Fair Work Act, the CFMEU aims to win back conditions lost under the previous federal government.

“We had for many years in the coal mining industry, standard agreements that saw employees of contractors engaged on exactly the same terms and conditions of employment as those that applied to permanent employees,” Vickers said.

“Work Choices and its predecessors, back from 1996 onwards, have watered down and made illegal those sorts of agreements, we think, and are very firmly of the view, that the Fair Work Act reopens that door for us.”

He said the union was confident its proposed job security clause applied to the industrial relations laws.

The CFMEU also plans to distribute a new bargaining manual to 500 union delegates that contains clauses covering all aspects of enterprise agreements.

Vickers acknowledged the Fair Work Act was fundamentally new, and expected a possible challenge from Xstrata to first be made in an application to Fair Work Australia.

However, he said “the lawyers will have to convince themselves they have a viable argument to start off with”

Commenting on recent corporate moves by Xstrata, Vickers said the conditions the United members were striking for were reasonable for them to expect.

He said United workers were being thrown out of work as a consequence of the operation winding down and closing, but a substantially enhanced operation at United would start in 18 months or so after the closure.

Vickers added there were job opportunities at other Xstrata operations where the company was using temporary and contract employees, including hiring new workers.

“These people that are being thrown out of work at this Xstrata operation ought to be guaranteed employment at those type of operations, and they ought to be guaranteed re-employment at the mine they are currently being thrown out of work from, if that mine reopens and redevelops.

“Now we don’t think there is anything unusual or immoral, illegal or even old-fashioned about that, we just think that it is common human decency and something that Xstrata should be doing.”

Other outstanding claims cover the rates of pay, with the union wanting pay on par with mines in the area, along with issues concerning redundancy payments and bonuses.

Bargaining for the new enterprise agreement began in early July.

ILN has sought comment from Xstrata, but has not yet received a response.

Looking at other coal mines that could have possible industrial activity, Vickers said Peabody’s North Goonyella longwall mine in Queensland was currently in the bargaining process.

He said a number of NSW mines, including underground operations, had enterprise agreements due within 12 months.

In August, Xstrata made 280 workers redundant from its Ulan and Tahmoor operations in NSW.

The move followed the announcement that the diversified miner would reopen its Oaky Creek No.1 longwall mine in Queensland for short-term production to the end of the year, with Xstrata aiming to fill some positions through contract labour.

Oaky Creek No.1 shed 230 jobs early this year after production was suspended in mid-December due to weak coking coal demand.

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