MP lashes out at Wollongong Coal over treatment of workers

Wollongong Coal’s sacking of 44 staff from the Russell Vale Colliery yesterday has attracted scathing criticism from local MP Anna Watson.

In NSW Parliament today the member for Shellharbour declared her disapproval of the treatment of workers at both the Wongawilli coal mine and Russell Vale, and threatened to withdraw her support for the company.

“Wollongong Coal should not expect to get away with hiding behind the fig leaf of planning approvals to dud its existing workforce,” she said.

“The workers stood by Wollongong Coal when it was in strife, and I request that the company should repay that loyalty now.”

Watson said Wollongong Coal should publically abandon what she saw as plans to introduce a casual workforce, submit to re-employ its retrenched workers as a first priority at both its Russell Vale and Wongawilli coal mines, and undertake its obligations with the CFMEU as stated in its EBA.

“Unless I see these commitments by the chaotic management of Wollongong Coal, I will withdraw my support for its continued operation – especially in relation to its Wongawilli mine in my electorate,” she said.

“I will not deal with the company in any way, shape or form.

“I will not lift a finger, as I’ve readily done in the past, to assist it with government or the bureaucracy.”

Watson highlighted that workers at the Wongawilli Coal Mine had worked for weeks without pay to keep the mine running in 2013, as a result of corporate mismanagement by then owners Gujarat NRE.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division South West District Vice President Bob Timbs said he met with representatives from Wollongong Coal on 15 September, however there was no indication given that workers would be sacked the next day.

“They’ve sacked all the underground mine workers, and kept their staff and statutory officials,” Timbs said.

“On the 15th they told me they would be talking to my members the next day. I said to them, ‘If there’s going to be anything traumatic done or said tomorrow, it may be best if I’m here on site to answer any of their questions as their representative’,” he said.

Timbs said the company representatives insisted they would only be “talking” to staff on the following day.

“The I get a phone call in the morning that they rounded them all up like cattle, made them all sit in a room, then took them away one at a time to terminate their employment.”

“They had started the consultation about redundancies, but they never identified anyone for redundancy.”

Timbs said the remaining management and engineering staff would be left with the care and maintenance work at Russell Vale, however given their lack of recent experience in hands-on operations, could pose a safety risk.

“Obviously these people have worked their way up the ranks, and over time they’ve gotten more tickets, and they may be qualified, but whether they’re competent is another thing,” he said.

“The mine won’t be run as safely as it could have been by the guys who have vast experience at that type of work.”

A spokesperson for Wollongong Coal said out of yesterday’s redundancies 36 workers were CFMEU members, and the other eight were members of the Association of Professional Engineers, Scientists and Managers Australia.

The Russell Vale colliery now has 86 staff remaining, none of whom were employed as operations staff. 

Image: Illawarra Mercury

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