Russell Vale redundancies loom

THE workforce of Wollongong Coal’s greentape-restrained Russell Vale longwall mine is expected to face calls for voluntary redundancies not long after they return from their Easter break on April 20.
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Courtesy of Wollongong Coal, formerly Gujarat NRE Coking Coal.

Blair Price

There were plans to ask for voluntary redundancies on April 13, however, the local branch of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union revealed this deadline was extended for at least a week.

“There will be further consultation with regards to the VR and possible forced redundancies and also the taking of unpaid leave,” CFMEU New South Wales south-western district vice-president Bob Timbs told ICN.

The union has no clarity yet on the potential job cut numbers. The various issues, which include canvassing the workforce over who might be interested in weeks or months of unpaid leave, will likely make it take a week or longer than April 20 for any job reduction outcomes to be reached.

Another big uncertainty relates to the environmental approval process for the mine’s underground expansion project.

The Planning Assessment Commission released its long-sought recommendations into this project on April 2.

The findings were not black and white, with the PAC seeking more information, especially in relation to water-related impacts, to determine the merits of the proposal.

“The commission considers that the likelihood of the proposed mine causing a significant detrimental impact on the Sydney water catchment quantity or quality is low, however the consequence, if such an event did occur, could be substantial and irreversible,” PAC said.

It is also seeking to bring in an additional, independent panel.

“A key recommendation is that a risk assessment panel, chaired by an independent expert to be established to oversee the additional work before a determination is made.”

Wollongong is working on responding to the PAC review as part of the next phase of the approvals regime.

“The applicant is preparing a response to the PAC review, which the Department will consider in the next phase of assessing the project,” a Department of Planning and Environment spokesman told ICN.

“The department is considering all of the PAC’s review recommendations.”

Timbs believes that the roughly 375m left in the panel that Russell Vale mine has PAC approval to extract could potentially last a few months especially if retreat rates are reduced to extend it out.

The PAC review on the Russell Vale expansion has been delayed more than once with Planning Minister Pru Goward initially wanting it done by March 20.

Timbs said this process needed to be expedited especially given the downturn in the industry and the financial pressures that mine operators are under.

“Obviously the timeframe has been extended to the point where it’s making the viability of the mine questionable,” he told ICN.

The expansion project is targeting an increased rate of 4.7 million tonnes per annum run of mine over a five-year mine life.

Of the eight longwall panels planned, PAC tentatively gave permission for Wollongong to mine the first 400m of one of them in November on the grounds of saving jobs.

However, the commission did complain that the “employment justification” was wearing thin as company gained its third “incremental modification” using this approach.

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