The dispute arose in July when talks broke down over a new enterprise agreement, involving 85 union workers. The stand-off has crippled the New South Wales operation with only a few days of longwall production occurring in the past month.
At the core of the dispute are negotiations over union workers' base rate of pay and hours. Traditionally, BHP Billiton operations have received similar base rates, but negotiations at the nearby Appin colliery six months ago put its workers on approximately A$5 per hour more than its Elouera counterparts.
When negotiations ensued at Elouera, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) representatives negotiated for the same rate as Appin (a 4% increase). BHP Billiton declined to meet the demand.
United Mineworkers Union district vice president Graham White told the Illawarra Mercury workers wanted the enterprise agreement rolled over so 86 workers were guaranteed employment until longwall development ceased, and 60 workers were guaranteed employment until the closure of the mine. The mine is set to cease in about two years.
“We also want to ensure that seniority is maintained – we don’t want the company to hand-pick the last 60, we want it to be decided on a last on, first off basis,” White told the Illawarra Mercury.