Union, Glencore clash over Collinsville

A UNION official has provided a completely different take on the “real story” of what is happening at the Collinsville coal mine in Queensland compared to Glencore’s account.
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Collinsville mine, image courtesy of Xstrata Coal.

Blair Price

The open cut coal mine was operated by a contractor for 17 years until Thiess lost this role in August last year following Xstrata’s merger with commodity giant Glencore.

The mine was re-opened in January by Glencore as the owner-operator, with the company taking on union officials by introducing a new workplace agreement.

Last week Glencore provided an update on the mine’s performance, revealing it had surpassed its first million tonnes of saleable coal production since it re-opened.

Glencore also commented on how it overhauled the mine’s coal handling and preparation plant and brought in larger scale equipment.

“The workforce of 200 that has achieved the production milestone has been largely recruited from local communities,” Glencore said at the time.

“Glencore expects to continue to ramp up operations at Collinsville, depending on market conditions and needs, with plans to produce nearly 3.5 million tonnes of saleable thermal coal by the end of the year.

“In addition to the mine’s workforce, another 50 local contractors are also on site delivering services such as maintenance to mobile equipment and fixed plant, and other support activities.”

Stephen Smyth, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union’s Queensland mining and energy division district president, later challenged what Glencore said.

“They have only employed 21 full time workers and the rest of around 160 production workers are all casual workers employed by Workpac,” he told International Coal News.

“They [Glencore] will not employ any full time workers at the moment.”

He further said the employment of locals was false.

“They cleverly use the words ‘locally recruited’,” Smyth said.

“This means they can come from everywhere other than the town of Collinsville. They use Workpac, who recruit out of Mackay and are looking at an office in Bowen 80km from Collinsville.

“Most of those laid off last year haven't received work back at Collinsville and now travel 3-4 hours elsewhere for work.”

The union official cast doubt on the mine’s production performance.

“Prior to the mine closing they had stockpiled heaps of coal,” he said.

“They are now simply running these stockpiles down and will face the real issue once they have to remove overburden and get back into it.”

Smyth said there were legal issues with the substandard workplace agreement, which he said Glencore called an “employment schedule”, and also commented on the recent sponcom challenges which emerged in May.

“The fires at the mine are still far from being under control,” Smyth said on Monday.

“They have had mines department on site several times due to issues from the fires coming to the town.”

Glencore responded to Smyth’s claims yesterday, firstly saying that its previous update was a statement of fact.

“We are continuing to progress with plans to deliver a successful and sustainable future for Collinsville in an increasingly difficult market,” Glencore said.

“Our workforce and production levels will increase as market conditions allow and, as part of this, we expect to continue to utilise skills available in the local communities, either through direct employment or contractors.

“All employees are working under modern, flexible workplace arrangements and the majority are from local communities. In fact, the percentage of local employees is significantly higher than it was before we moved to an owner-operator model at Collinsville.

“As part of our investment in Collinsville, the mine now has in place a comprehensive spontaneous combustion mitigation and management plan, as well as robust environmental management, air quality and gas monitoring programs.

“This is successfully managing heatings that have recently occurred in the mine’s previous workings.”

A WorkPac spokesman further told ICN that locals were especially recruited for the Collinsville mine. He did not comment on the workforce numbers but said it already has a Bowen office.

He also made the case that Collinsville locals could be employed for the mine by any of its WorkPac offices in Australia and as an example said the Brisbane office was currently recruiting for a couple of local positions for an LNG project in Western Australia.

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