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Casual coal miners begin week long strike in Wollongong mine

Coal News - Published on Tue, 15 Jan 2019

Image Source: Illawarra Mercury
WSWS reported that around one hundred coal miners at the Wongawilli mine near Wollongong, an industrial city south of Sydney, began seven-day strike action this morning. The workers are employed as casuals by CAS Mining, on behalf of Wollongong Coal. They are demanding a new enterprise agreement that guarantees job permanency and improved wages. The industrial action expresses growing anger among workers over wage levels, and opposition to a stepped-up offensive against conditions, amid a soaring cost of living.

In a sign of nervousness within the ruling elite that the strike could become a focal point for broader discontent, the Murdoch-owned Australian newspaper prominently reported it on Friday. Kelly O’Dwyer, the federal Liberal-National Coalition government’s industrial relations minister, called for talks to prevent the stoppage.

The Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union, however, called the action as part of a cynical attempt to present the unions, which have collaborated in the destruction of full-time jobs for decades, as opponents of growing casualisation. The unions are also seeking to exploit the strike for their campaign to channel workers behind the election of yet another big business federal Labor government.

The fraudulent character of the union posturing is underscored by its record at Wongawilli. The CFMMEU has enforced all of management’s dictates and prevented any unified struggle by mine workers against a series of attacks on conditions.

In 2015, Wollongong Coal shuttered the Wongawilli site, laying off around 80 permanent workers. The company invoked substantial financial losses to justify the move, amid the downturn in global commodity prices after the 2008 global financial crisis. The shutdown followed a series of sackings at the site and Wollongong Coal’s nearby Russell Vale mine.

Wollongong Coal is a subsidiary of Jindal Group, a diversified resources and manufacturing conglomerate headquartered in India. It has an annual turnover of around USD 18 billion.

The union did nothing to prevent the shut-down. It ensured continued production at Wollongong Steel’s other mines in the region. It only issued plaintive appeals that if the mine were reopened, it be staffed by the workers who had been laid-off.

In 2016 the company reopened the Wongawilli mine to take advantage of the doubling of commodity prices amid a global rebound in the sector. In order to slash costs, it hired a contract workforce, with fewer rights and entitlements than the previous workforce, and no job permanency.

Last year, Wollongong Coal outsourced its staffing arrangements at Wongawilli to CAS Mining, a labour hire company. Workers at the site have been employed as casuals, with no sick or leave entitlements, or other benefits of full-time employment. They have been paid hundreds of dollars less per week than workers at other mines in the area.

According to CAS Mining, the workers are paid USD 34 an hour, compared to a rate of USD 42 for permanent employees at nearby mines. Workers have claimed that if they take “too many” sick days, for which they are not paid, they no longer receive shifts. The site is an underground mine, involving physically demanding labour.

The arrangement, which the unions have done nothing to prevent, is potentially illegal. Under Fair Work industrial legislation, companies can only use casual labour if provisions are contained in an enterprise agreement. CAS Mining’s casuals, however, are not employed under an agreement.

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Posted By : Rabi Wangkhem on Tue, 15 Jan 2019
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