Doubts mount that Gujarat shareholder deal won’t help unpaid workers

A letter read to workers by Gujarat NRE’s general manager has cast doubt over a whether a share deal next week aimed at saving the company will go ahead.

Around 300 workers gathered at the Fraternity Club yesterday for a union meeting, where they were met by Gujarat’s general manager as chairman Arun Jagatramka remains overseas.

Workers for the company have not been paid wages owed to them for over three weeks, with Gujarat previously telling employees cash flows should improve after a  shareholder meeting on October 16 when a takeover bid by Jindal Steel and Power is predicted.

However, the meeting did little to alleviate workers concerns as Jagatramka said his “hands are tied”, The Illawarra Mercury reported.

‘‘Dear friends we have before us some very challenging times,” the statement begun, before Jagatramka went on to blame falling commodity prices, a strong Australian dollar and ‘‘liquidity restraints’’ for the company’s failure to pay its workers.

‘‘We did try and raise whatever cash we could from all potential sources by selling our non-core assets… which were our properties in Bank Street, Cliff Road and shares in REY Resources to sustain our mining operations in this period,” the statement read.

‘‘I’m thankful to Jindal for providing partial funding over the last three months to sustain operations, but I am baffled by their sudden withdrawal and absolute refusal, suddenly to remit even the critical amount needed for timely payment of weekly wages.

‘‘This was never expected by me and I am at a loss for words in this regard. My hands are tied.’’

However workers at the meeting wanted further clarity as to whether the shareholder meeting would make way for their wages to be paid.

‘‘Can anybody in this room tell us whether, on [October 16] next week, we’re going to be told ‘it’s all over and there’s no funds coming to you’, or [if] we’re going to be told ‘yes Jindal is going to take over and they’re going to back-pay you and sort everything out and financially you’re going to be all right’”, one worker asked.

‘‘Is that going to happen, or are we going to be told ‘you’ll just have to wait for another couple of weeks’?’’

Brett asked for patience and said his company was in “uncharted waters’’ and would remain flexible until there was ‘‘further clarity’’.

‘‘No-one here can answer that question about what will happen on the 16th,’’ Brett said.

Uncertainty around the share deal has alarmed CFMEU union officials.

‘‘[Hearing what Mr Jagatramka said] makes me worried about the deal on the 16th, but until that letter was read out today the company was of the opinion it would turn around,’’ CFMEU’s general vice-president Wayne McAndrew said,

 ‘‘At the end of the day, we’re hopeful the company can trade their way out of it because that’s the aim of all this. The last possible outcome we want is the closure of the two mines.’’

Last week the CFMEU secured short-term hardship payments from the NSW Long Service Leave Corporation for workers at Gujarat NRE, with employees set to receive a week’s pay.

A worker at the mine told the Illawarra Mercury people were distressed at the situation.

"This is all everyone talks about," he said.

With dwindling bank accounts, and no certainty on when wages would be paid, the man said people were stressed.

The mine worker said he had started looking for work elsewhere.

"I'm looking for work as we speak and I know a lot of other blokes are going to be doing the same thing," he said.

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