Rail strike to cripple NSW rail exports

THE New South Wales coal export industry is set to stop in its tracks, with rail union members voting to strike at Pacific National Coal this Friday after being unable to conclude enterprise agreement negotiations.
Rail strike to cripple NSW rail exports Rail strike to cripple NSW rail exports Rail strike to cripple NSW rail exports Rail strike to cripple NSW rail exports Rail strike to cripple NSW rail exports

Pacific National coal train.

Lou Caruana

The action will prevent at least 300,000 tonnes of coal from reaching the Port of Newcastle, with the loss of $25 million of exports a day to the NSW economy, according to Pacific National parent group Asciano.

It comes at a bad time for Whitehaven Coal, which only just started railing coal from its Narrabri mine to Newcastle after a derailment damaged the rail link near Boggabri late last year.

Whitehaven and Xstrata are reportedly seeking legal action against the union over the planned industrial action.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union notified Pacific National of its intention late yesterday and said the stoppage would begin at midday on Friday and run for 24 hours, according to RTBU National Secretary Bob Nanva.

“Pacific National has deliberately brought these negotiations to a standstill, leaving the RTBU no option other than industrial action,” he said.

“Any Pacific National customer with concerns about this weekend’s stoppage needs to ask Pacific National management why it is conducting an ideological union busting campaign against the RTBU rather than getting on with the task of moving coal.

“Negotiation is a two-way street. While the union is receptive to revised offers, Pacific National has barely budged.”

The company’s offer was voted down by 85% of the workforce in December, before members voted to endorse industrial action in January.

Nanva said the company was clearly disconnected from the needs of its workforce.

Pacific National Coal said that despite its last minute attempts to finalise negotiations for a new EA for its 840 NSW employees, the RTBU refused what Asciano believed was a “very generous” wage offer of an annual wage increase of 4% each year for the three years of the deal.

Pacific National coal director David Irwin said that as a result of the union’s action, the company’s previous offer expired and reduced to an annual increase of 3% per year for the three years of the proposed agreement.

“In an increasingly challenging economy, where we are seeing extensive job losses and mine closures amongst our customers, we have offered a very generous wage increase of 4% each year, against the RTBU’s exorbitant publicly stated wage claim of 9%, 7% and 7%,” he said.

“We have met 27 times over the past year and bent over backwards to finalise the EA.

“The union logged 103 separate claims at the outset of these negotiations and we have agreed to 93 of these and offered wage increases well above CPI and other comparable industry norms.

“There are no productivity trade-offs included in the proposed agreement which further highlights the extreme nature of the RTBU wage claims.

“Finally, in an effort to resolve these remaining differences, we have offered to enter into binding arbitration by the Fair Work Commission for the commission to determine a final outcome but the RTBU has refused this as well.”

The RTBU expressed concern at Pacific National’s “unusual and unorthodox” industrial tactics, which it claims include offering higher pay rises to members who don’t take industrial action; the introduction of individual agreements; and the unprecedented intervention of unrelated third parties such as Xstrata and Whitehaven.

“Pacific National is pursuing an ideological campaign against the right of union members to collectively bargain and take industrial action,” Nanva said.

“Shareholders in its parent company, Asciano, need to ask whether anti-union vendettas are more important than the smooth running of this business.”

With the delay to Narrabri’s ramp-up last year and the lengthy delay to its Maules Creek approval, Whitehaven has surplus port and rail track capacity in the 2013 financial year and FY2014.

It is a significant cost, expected to add approximately $4 per tonne to cash free-on-board costs in FY2013.

The company recently appointed Jonathan Vandervoort as infrastructure executive general manager.

Vandervoort, who starts this month, is responsible for providing infrastructure to support Whitehaven’s existing and developing mining operations, as well as for new projects.