Coal mine workers asked to pack up and leave as hundreds of jobs cut

In a sad day for mining in the Illawarra region, 152 workers were sacked from Wollongong Coal’s Wongawilli and Russell Vale mines yesterday.

The move comes as both operations battle with a unique set of problems.

At Wonagwilli, a long wall machine has been buried, seriously affecting production and the number of workers required.

An attempt to negotiate a new EA, in the hope of saving jobs, was voted down by employees when Wollongong Coal proposed they work for $21 an hour and slashed other provisions such as accident pay and annual leave entitlements.

"It would have given us one of the worst enterprise agreements in the coal industry, and would have lowered the wages to 1970s or 80s wages," CFMEU district president Bob Timbs said.

"Why would you go and work in one of the most hostile workplace conditions in the country, when you can go and work outside in the fresh air for the same rate?"

Workers claim the company did not negotiate the EA in good faith and say it was Wollongong Coal’s intention to go back to mining a single unit on day shift at Wongawilli, requiring just 15 employees.

105 workers were forced into redundancy as a result, and asked to pick up the relevant documents from the site yesterday and clear out their belongings.

"That's it, we're done and dusted," one man said.

"I've given 'em five years of service and they just marched us up the hill and got rid of us."

Meanwhile, 35 redundancies, 23 of them forced, were made at Russell Vale as the site awaits for government approval to mine a 400m piece of longwall 6 ahead of schedule.

Hundreds of more jobs at Russell Vale are on the line if this stop-gap mining plan is denied.

Timbs said it was a terrible day for the miners and their families in the Illawarra.

"Everyone would be aware of the bloodshed that we went through last year not being paid for 6 weeks and the turmoil they had running up Christmas and we believe we'd pass that," he said.

"Everyone had done a whole lot of work and we'd keep the mine viable."

Last year whilst under the management of Arun Jagatramka, workers suffered through almost two months without pay before Jindal Steel took over the company.

Timbs said there was little chance the sacked workers would gain employment at other mines in the region.

The CFMEU will hold financial and career advice for workers at its Kembla grange office next week.

It is estimated around 450 people have lost their jobs within the Illawarra’s mining industry in just two years.

The cuts come amidst falling coal prices and a readjustment of the number of workers required to pre-boom levels.

Glencore’s Tahmoor coal mine, also located in the Illawarra, is set to shed 40 jobs.

Wollongong Coal chairman Jasbir Singh said it was a difficult time for the workers but it was necessary to downsize the workforce to bring the collieries in line with  current market conditions and production levels.

‘‘While these reductions in jobs are essential at the moment, Wollongong Coal is committed to further developing and operating their underground operations, despite  these unprecedented economic times which sees current global coking coal market  prices at historical lows,” he said.

The company plans to expand into its Wonga South area, but no application is ready for lodging with authorities.

After the application is submitted, a lengthy assessment process would follow.

Wollongong Coal’s Chief Operations Officer David Stone said the company would continue to employ 256 people within its Russell Vale and Wongawilli operations.

Image: Illawarra Mercury

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