Illawarra industrial action shelved

A UNION campaign to start industrial action at the Dendrobium longwall mine in New South Wales was shelved in the weeks before operator BHP Billiton Illawarra Coal unleashed plans to cut 85 jobs.
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A stockpile of coal from South32's Illawarra Coal's Dendrobium mine

Blair Price

The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union overwhelmingly received the ballot results it needed to start protected industrial action at the Dendrobium mine on June 21 after votes were cast on June 16.

The results approved seven actions, including the measures of taking an unlimited amount of 24-hour work stoppages, banning the use of diesel vehicles underground and limiting longwall production to one shear per shift.

Yet within a fortnight of those results, Illawarra Coal, which operates the Appin, West Cliff and Dendrobium longwall mines in the Southern Coalfields of New South Wales, unexpectedly announced plans to make 85 redundancies.

The cuts, occurring on July 4, were strongly criticised by the Collieries’ Staff and Officials Association.

“It is hard to understand how BHP, with its vast profits and global operations, was only able to provide workers with nine working days’ notice of such a big number of forced redundancies,” CSOA director Catherine Bolger said at the time.

“It smacks of panic and bad management rather than the financial constraints the company has cited.”

CSOA also revealed that management-level positions were among those cut.

“These workers are mine supervisors, they understand how the mines work and how to operate them effectively and safely,” Bolger said.

“They know there are better ways for the company to save money, more effective ways to manage and maintain the mine, than sacking 85 people.”

In an update on the CFMEU’s enterprise agreement-related plans at Dendrobium, the union’s southwestern district vice president Bob Timbs revealed that taking protected industrial action was no longer on the cards at this stage.

“There has been no industrial action as we have recommenced talks with the company,” he told ICN.

On the redundancies, Illwarra Coal president Troy McDonald said the industry had been experiencing difficult market conditions, including continuing low coal prices and oversupply.

“In this challenging environment, Illawarra Coal has been focused on improving cost efficiency,” he said.

“While this has been a difficult decision having regard for the impact it will have on employees and their families, it is a necessary one if we are to operate a sustainable business in the Illawarra region.”

While CSOA complained about the short notice, Illawarra Coal said the affected employees were provided with support services and, where appropriate, a redundancy package or redeployment opportunities.

“Where applicable this includes the provision of job search services and the employee assistance program,” the company said.

“All notifications were made in accordance with relevant enterprise agreements and employee contracts.”