Gujarat miners broke and frustrated as pay still weeks away

Only half of the workers at Gujarat NRE’s coal mines are expected to go back to work after the strain of unpaid wages takes its toll on the workforce.

Workers at Gujarat NRE have still not been paid their weekly wage, with the company unlikely to come up with the money for at least the next three weeks.

Hundreds of CFMEU members from Russell Vale and Wongawilli mines attended union meetings this week after they were told last Wednesday their wages could not be paid until after October 16.

Workers have not been paid their wages since September 25 and superannuation contributions have not been paid since March.

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

He said more than half the workers he knew were not planning to return to the mines until they were paid.

"Most workers aren't going in," he said.

"And, like people said at the meeting [on Monday], at some point, some blokes aren't going to be able to work even if they want to, because they're not going to have the money to put petrol in their cars.

"Then they'll have no choice but to take unpaid leave.

With dwindling bank accounts, and no certainty on when wages would be paid, the man said people were stressed – adding that it could cause safety issues at the site.

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

"The morale has dropped and there's no way that people are going to work safely because no-one's mind is going to be on the job.

"And it's only going to get worse and more stressful as people run out of money week by week."

The CFMEU has told its members it will not authorise industrial action, but has instead left the decision on whether to work up to individuals in the hope they will get paid what’s owed to them soon.

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.

Gujarat said that operations and cash flow were expected to stabilise after a shareholder meeting on October 16, when shareholders are expected to vote whether to allow Indian steel company Jindal Steel and Power to acquire up to 56.3 per cent of the voting power in Gujarat.

A vote in favour would mean Jindal would be able to take control of Gujarat, with the majority shareholder required to pay the workers’ wages and superannuation.

However, if the vote does not pass, the CFMEU advised workers that Gujarat could go into liquidation, meaning their entitlements would have to be claimed through arbitration.

"I would love nothing more than for Jindal to take over and have a change of management, because that's what we need," the worker said.

However uncertainty remains on how the Indian steel powerhouse would proceed with the mine.

"The union told us that Jindal would be very interested in cutting costs, so we don't exactly know what will happen, but it's better than the other option, which would see [Gujarat] taken into administration.”

The miner said workers were already under pressure after their weekly hours were cut in the middle of the year.

"A lot of the blokes have chewed through their savings and have more or less been living week to week, because they have had their shifts cut," he said.

"This situation is going to affect them the most because you can only survive for so long on what you've got.

"I have a mortgage and a car and I'm lucky to have family who are offering to help me out.”

In a further blow to Gujarat, the company has been ordered to repay more than $US8 million to Singaporean company Coeclerici Asia after it failed to provide it with thousands of tonnes of coal.

On Monday , the Federal Court upheld its original decision that the Illawarra miner owed the Asian company over the failed deal, after a challenge by Gujarat’s executive chairman Arun Jagatramka was dismissed.

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