Seven-day strike for South32’s Dendrobium coal mine workers

Workers at South32’s Dendrobium coal mine are set to strike for seven days after the collapse of negotiations over a new enterprise agreement.

Mine workers will stop work at 6am this Friday after South32 and the CFMEU were unable to resolve the long-running dispute.

The agreements expired in April 2014 when BHP Billiton still owned the mine, which is managed by subsidiary Illawarra Coal.

South32 now owns Illawarra Coal and the Dendrobium, Appin and West Cliff coal mines after the BHP demerger in May.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division South West District Vice President Bob Timbs said that the union had been attempting to reach a new enterprise agreement for the past 18 months.

“We sat down with the company again today and put forward some proposals designed to break the deadlock and we are very disappointed with their refusal to come to fair terms,” Timbs said.

The main stumbling block is a security of employment clause which would protect permanent employment and provide future job opportunities for contract mine workers.

The union claims that in recent years, BHP and now South32 have increasingly made use of lower paid labour hire and contractors to do work normally performed by permanent full time employees.  

It says contractors can be paid around $500 per week less than full time employees and claims that most contractors employed in recent times do not have access to conditions such as annual leave, sick leave, redundancy pay and top up accident pay.

“The company appears to be entering into a strategy of replacing permanent full time employees with contractors when workers retire, resign or are promoted, meaning the permanent workforce is slowly but surely being casualised,” Timbs said.

“Around 20 per cent of the workers employed at this mine are now contractors and that number is considerably higher at other South32 mines. It’s going to keep increasing unless we take a stand.

“BHP and now South32 are multinational companies that have extracted billions of dollars out of the Illawarra and they’re using every trick in the book to dodge their obligation to workers.”

 Illawarra Coal says it is disappointed workers have voted to take strike action.

Troy McDonald, Illawarra Coal Asset President, said the company had been working with employees and their representatives to develop a new agreement since late 2013.

“We are extremely disappointed in this action, given that since we started negotiating this agreement we have put a number of proposals to employees to address their concerns,” McDonald said.

“In addition, we have commenced the payment of a wage increase as a sign of good faith to our employees while discussions are continuing.

“Industrial action in return is both disingenuous and irresponsible.

“The mining industry, like many other industries in the Illawarra region, is facing a difficult business environment. 

"Disruptive industrial action by the CFMEU would create further uncertainty for the company, its employees and the broader community. “

Agreements at South32’s Appin and West Cliff coal mines have also expired.

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