Jindal takeover bid still unclear as Gujarat saga drags on

The CFMEU has met with Jindal Steel and Power, the potential new owners of Gujarat NRE, however it is still unclear whether a share deal meeting next week will see a transfer of power set to help hundreds of unpaid miners.

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 Illawarra Mercury reports that a meeting held yesterday with the CFMEU and representatives from Indian company Jindal Power failed to make the outcome of next week’s takeover deal any clearer.

CFMEU south-western district vice-president Bob Timbs welcomed the opportunity to meet with the company stating Jindal had ‘‘committed to start a dialogue with the union”, but said details were under wraps due to ‘‘commercial sensitivities with Jindal Steel’’.

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

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

‘‘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.’’

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.’’

Meanwhile, Gujarat has this week lodged a new ‘‘Preferred Project Report’’ submission with the NSW Department of Planning outlining its expansion plans for Russell Vale mine.

Gujarat’s head of corporate relations Dr Chris Harvey told The Mercury the document was not last-ditch attempt to save the operation.

‘‘[The documents are] part of the approval process as administered by the Department of Planning and Infrastructure,’’ Harvey said.

‘‘They are the next logical step in the planning and approval process and do not represent a last attempt to save the mines.

‘‘However, it must be clearly identified that ongoing approval for the longwall panels is essential for the mine to continue to operate.’’

The new report has downgraded the mine’s expansion from 18 years to five, while eight shortened longwalls have been proposed as opposed to nine.

Plans to develop seven longwalls at the Wonga West mine have also been scrapped.

However the company said it still plans to ramp up coal production to three million tonnes per year over a five year period.

In its submission the company said the revised project plan will “provide NRE with an ongoing, albeit reduced, income stream to continue to establish environmental baseline data and undertake the necessary additional environmental studies required to demonstrate the practicality of the environmentally responsible extraction of exiting large volumes of economically viable ROM coal in the remaining central and western areas of the lease”.

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