Miners ready to strike



NEWCASTLE — Miners at the United coal mine 16 kilometres west of Singleton and several other pits in the Hunter region are preparing to step-up industrial action to improve wages and conditions.

"At United, the miners accepted a wage freeze of up to three years and loss of entitlements on the back of a promise made by the company that they could have a wage increase when the situation for the company improved", Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) organiser Peter Murray told Green Left Weekly.

United has offered a cent per hour wage increase. Miners responded on January 16 with a three-day stoppage and picket. Further stoppages and pickets are being planned at United and the nearby Costaines Narama pit. Further pits are expected to take industrial action as enterprise agreements expire over the next four to six weeks.

The Swiss based Xstrata, United's owner, is the third largest exporter of coal from Australia and has extensive mining interests in South Africa. It has a stake in 14 NSW coal mines, most of them in the Hunter region.

Following a series of acquisitions last year and a slump in the price of coal, Xstrata has been restructuring its global operations. This could see further attempts to reduce wages and conditions and sacking of miners.

"We received a letter from Xstrata last May saying that there would be no forced retrenchments of any Australian miner", Murray told GLW. "Then in October, 81 miners were sacked at short notice at Bulga, as they were walking out the gate many of them were offered the contact details for the contractor who was re-hiring casual labour for the mine."

Some 37,000 hours of labour (over the period of a year) is now contracted out at Bulga. "Some of those re-hired at Bulga by the contractor have not received the full supplementary and bonus payments that they are entitled to — which means they are underpaid $345 a week", Murray said.

The CFMEU is particularly concerned over the singling out of union delegates at Bulga and other pits for standing up to Xstrata. Last December, more than 2000 miners stopped work across Australia because of Xstrata's actions. Further widespread industrial action may take place if the company remains unresponsive to miners' demands.

From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.
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