Peabody Energy’s Burton coking coal mine is soon to lose 100 workers, who were alerted to their redundancy by text message on Thursday night.
The use of text message to fire workers employed by Thiess appeared to be a mistake, as a spokesperson for the contractor admitted their error but refused to elaborate further on how they could have bungled such a sensitive communication.
However, in a written statement released to employees, Thiess specified that the decision to fire workers by text message was an “error in judgement”.
“Crews were advised during recent presentations we would bulk SMS and phone call to communicate progress, however it was an error in judgement to use the SMS option as a means of notifying impacted mining operators of redundancy,” Thiess said.
"Impacted workshop and CHP personnel were notified in person, we apologise for any distress caused."
In early August Thiess said they would be “deeply mindful” of the impact that such changes would have on employees and their families.
“Our Burton team was advised of our client’s intention to scale down operations through a series of presentations held in early August,” Thiess said in a different statement made to the press on Friday.
“Crews were advised that bulk SMS and phone calls may be used to communicate progress, however the use of SMS in this instance was an error and we apologise.
“Other affected personnel were notified in person.”
The Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) said Thiess had treated their workers like “sausages on a shelf at the butcher’s”.
CFMEU district vice president Steve Pierce said there were a number of workers who were not yet aware they would be fired when they received the text message, and that many workers were disgusted at the method.
“For a company that always talks about itself being a family orientated company; that Thiess is a family, it's not just a name; to be told after a number of years of service just by popping it on an email address, that's pretty poor,” Pierce said.
“We haven't seen this sort of nonsense since the darkest days of the Howard era,” Pierce said.
CFMEU Mining division president Steve Smyth said the use of text message to inform workers of their redundancy was “just disgraceful”.
“It was more the way it happened, to receive a text message is just unacceptable,” he said.
“There were a lot of long term employees, and because they didn’t get enough voluntary redundancies, there were forced redundancies, which makes it bad for the workers’ stress levels, particularly in the current job market."
Falling commodity prices have pushed mine operator Peabody Energy to cut back production levels, as they announced in early August they would slash output by approximately 1 million tonnes per year.
At the time it was understood around 300 to 350 workers would be cut from the site.
Peabody said the Burton mine had the highest unit-cost operation, and that production levels were not sustainable in the market environment.
Peabody said they would target lower-cost reserves with reduced fleets of equipment.
On the back of this output reduction the miner has reduced its average Australia cost per short ton to around $70.
It has also readjusted its third quarter EBITDA, raising the target by approximately US$10 million, while at the same time cutting Australian targeted coking coal sales for the year by one million tonnes to between 15 and 16 million short tons.