Tahmoor troubles

TAHMOOR workers are back on the picket line for at least a one-week strike as enterprise agreement negotiations have gone nowhere for 18-19 months. The longwall is also facing more roof issues while management steps up pressure against the posting of anti-Xstrata campaign materials.
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The picket line at Tahmoor. Image courtesy of CFMEU.

Blair Price

Industrial action is becoming a regular activity at the mine in the southern coalfields of New South Wales but there is more behind the recent ramp-up.

Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union district vice-president Bob Timbs told ILN one of Tahmoor’s employees was dismissed in late June for making anti-Xstrata postings on the union-run website, xstratafacts.com.

“They found out who he was so they sacked him,” he said.

An Xstrata spokesperson conceded that a worker was recently dismissed.

“I can confirm a Tahmoor employee was recently fired due to a very serious breach of acceptable conduct; it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time given other external investigations into the matter,” he told ILN.

Work for an unfair dismissal case is underway.

The union campaign posters and stickers, featuring slogans against Xstrata, are also getting more attention.

Timbs said Tahmoor management put out notices and held meetings with all workers on a shift-by-shift basis on the matter of anti-Xstrata stickers and signs on their cars.

Workers were told that if they kept these campaign materials on their cars they would be charged with misconduct, according to the union rep.

“If you are charged with misconduct under our enterprise agreement – they can sack you,” Timbs said.

He added the land the cars were parked on was council property and the council was not concerned.

“They were basically saying if you put an anti-Xstrata sign on your car out the front of the colliery on public land – that they will sack you for it.”

The Xstrata spokesperson did not shed too much more light on this issue of contention.

“We have raised the issue of anti-Xstrata collateral with all employees under the terms of their existing contracts,” he said.

Timbs said Xstrata had become more “aggressive” over the past week towards the workforce, including a letter sent to every employee alleging the union representatives were not keeping them informed on what the company was offering.

The company spokesperson said its priority was to ensure all employees were well informed and understand their rights at work, “given the ongoing industrial dispute and its impacts upon the individual employee”

There are also some varying takes on the recent roof issues with the longwall, which were threatening the tailgate end.

Timbs said there was an area of about 15m the longwall needed to be moved through.

He said Tahmoor management was trying to use office staff to do the job and try and run a multi-million dollar longwall.

Timbs said the union consequently sent a skeleton crew of about eight workers including two tradespersons to move the longwall forward while some contractors would change the shearer drums.

After the job is done, the workers are expected to go back to the picket line.

The Xstrata spokesperson put forward a different version.

“On four occasions we asked the union to assist with the moving of the longwall to ensure its safety,” the spokesperson said.

“Our request was refused on each occasion, leaving us with no choice but to state that the longwall would be moved using management and staff, all of whom have longwall experience.

“Following the union’s declaration of further strike action and on learning that management would be forced to move the longwall, the union then offered to assist.”

Meanwhile, there is unlikely to be any solution to the standoff between workers and management any time soon.

Timbs did not confirm the strike, which started Friday morning, would end after a week.

“Wouldn’t say it is ending – we will review it next Friday,” he said.

He said Xstrata wanted to pay the Tahmoor workers $2 an hour less than the rest of the district.

On the EA negotiations, he said the union was willing to accept the loss of several clauses but the main thing it was pursuing was some security in the contract about being replaced by a contractor.

“That’s when the talks broke down.”

Timbs added he dealt with multinational companies every day, and good deals were struck with BHP Billiton and Peabody Energy who had a “common sense” approach to get along.

Xstrata was again disappointed with resumption of industrial action.

“The CFMEU’s decision to implement further strike action is to the detriment of our employees and the Tahmoor operation,” Xstrata said.

“Xstrata Coal has negotiated six new enterprise agreements with the CFMEU across NSW in recent months fairly and equitably.

“The continued failure of the Tahmoor CFMEU representatives to appropriately negotiate a modern flexible agreement suggests they are not acting in the best interests of their members or the future viability of the Tahmoor mine.

“We refute the recent false accusations made by the CFMEU against Tahmoor’s management and suggest they turn their efforts to resolving this matter as quickly as possible in the interests of their members instead.”