Workplace fight brewing at Glencore’s Collinsville coal mine

A major industrial relations battle is taking shape in Queensland as GlencoreXstrata plan to suspend operations at its Collinsville coal mine, forcing workers to sign a new agreement if they want to keep their jobs.

GlencoreXstrata first announced in February it would take control of the Collinsville Coal Mine away from Thiess as it pushes for the project to turn a profit.

However after 400 workers were notified by Thiess that their employment contract would end on August 31, they face an uncertain future as GlencoreXstrata are refusing to give preference to the existing workforce.  

Glencore argue that the mine has been unprofitable for the last 18 months, and say the closure is part of a transition phase that was attempting to keep the mine viable.

A spokesman from GlencoreXstrata told Australian Mining that “the current workplace agreement has restrictive practices and is a hindrance to the mine being in a position to being as productive as it can be”.

Other measures being taken include redesigning the mine plan to allow for larger equipment, increasing strip lengths, and upgrading the CHPP.

However the CFMEU has accused the mine of wanting to reopen as a greenfields site, an enterprise agreement that normally only applies to new ventures, ABC reported.

"Glencore have come back to us and said that they'll only employ people if there's a greenfield agreement in place, which obviously a greenfield agreement doesn't apply to a mine that's been operating nearly 100 years," president of Queensland’s CFMEU Stephen Smyth said.

"So, at this stage, because the union won't capitulate to Glencore's demands on a lesser agreement, and not offering employment to the current Theiss employees, Glencore's going to shut the mine."

Smyth accused the company of being anti-union and anti collective bargaining and vowed to fight for workers rights.

“This is shaping up to be a big one,” he said.

He said Glencore does not have the right to put a greenfield agreement in place.

"The law is quite clear is that it's a transmission of business, which means transmission of the industrial arrangements go across, and any employee going across would be picked up on those transitional arrangements," he said.

"And Glencore obviously want to do it on what we say a reduction of conditions and entitlement and offer a greenfield agreement, which isn't the law anyway."

Glencore dismissed claims it is union-busting, arguing that a greenfields agreement with higher pay and superannuation can implemented because the mine’s overhauled operations will differ substantially, Financial Review reported.

“We already have similar agreements in place at our other operations in Queensland but, despite numerous approaches and discussions with the state officials of the union, we have not been able to move this matter forward,” a spokesman said.

“We believe we will be able to employ people committed to our future vision for the mine from the local communities of Collinsville, Scottsville, Bowen and Glenden.”

ACTU secretary Dave Oliver said the mine’s closure was politically motivated.

“Glencore is banking on a change of government a week after it shuts operations and sacks workers – a government that will back them by promoting anti-worker greenfield agreements and individual contracts,” Oliver said.

“This is not a genuine greenfield situation, it’s simply that operations are being brought back in-house.”

Meanwhile, locals living in Collinsville have expressed anger at the company’s actions.

Donna Bulloch, who runs a support group for miners and their families in the town said she fears existing employers would be replaced.

"It churns my stomach to think that a multinational company like Glencore can come into a community that has been built by the miners for families, that they can just come in and just rip it to pieces," she said.

"It just angers me so much that they don't have any concern whatsoever for the local people that choose to live here locally in this community."

One worker told Australian Mining the miner has made its intentions clear.

"They have made it clear they don't have any positions for us, not even a expression of interest."

Bulloch says there are similar stories being exposed around the Collinsville community.

"I've heard through some of the people who are employed out there that they're not even guaranteed an interview, let alone a job back there," she said.

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