Staff at Russell Vale Colliery sacked

Wollongong Coal has let go of 44 permanent mineworkers at the Russell Vale Colliery this morning.

A spokesperson for the coal miner said the redundancies were part of the announcement made on 2 September that they would cut 80 staff from site as Russell Vale entered a period of suspension.

The remaining workers had been kept on as a small crew for care and maintenance.

The CFMEU claimed that 36 workers were the last remaining permanent workers on site, however Wollongong Coal said the 36 workers referred to by the union were the union members within the group.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division South West District Vice President Bob Timbs said workers were given redundancy letters this morning and told to clear out their lockers.

The CFMEU has questioned the honesty of mine operator Wollongong Coal, who have not guaranteed workers would be rehired if the mine is reopened.

“The company has repeatedly refused to provide a written undertaking that if the Russel Vale coal mine extension is approved, the retrenched local workers would be the first in line for future jobs at the mine,” Timbs said.

“We know that Wollongong Coal has boasted in a report to shareholders that closing its Wongawilli mine and terminating the permanent workforce was ‘paving the way’ for re-opening the mine with a cheaper, casual workforce.

“We’re concerned that this is another opportunistic attempt to deliberately close the mine, terminate the current enterprise agreement, and then re-open the mine using a contract workforce.”

Timbs said community support for the former Russell Vale workers  had been growing, with federal MPs Sharon Bird and Stephen Jones calling on Wollongong Coal to commit to local, permanent jobs at the mine.

“There will be no support from the community for this mine to re-open if the company is not committed to ensuring decent pay and conditions for employees under the protection of an Enterprise Agreement,” Timbs said.

A statement from Wollongong Coal said options to reduce impact on employees had been carefully considered, but external factors at the mine remained unchanged, which included the cessation of longwalling, uncertainty about planning approvals for the underground expansion project, and significant financial losses.

“Wollongong Coal will continue to work with affected employees through this process of transition and has continually attempted to avoid this unfortunate situation by undertaking a series of workforce restructurings,” a spokesperson said.

“Wollongong Coal remains committed to the region for the long-term, having already invested more than $400 million over the past two years.

“Speculating about the specifics of future arrangements at the mine is unhelpful given ongoing uncertainty about the operating environment and approvals time frame.”

Earlier this month Wollongong Coal reported an after-tax loss of $199.2 million for the year ending 31 March 2015.

Following the report share prices plunged from an already dismal $0.022 to 0.007 on 2 April, with prices since recovered to $0.02 per share.

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