Tahmoor mineworkers still fighting

Chris Cumming

Attempts by Tahmoor mineworkers to negotiate with mining giant Xstrata have collapsed yet again after the company refused to budge during mediated talks in May. For 20 months, the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Energy Union (CFMEU), has been trying to negotiate an agreement.

Mineworkers are asking for a security clause that would guarantee that no permanent employee be replaced by contractors for the life of the agreement. Mineworkers also asked for minimum staffing levels to guarantee safe operations, and protection from victimisation and discrimination in the workplace. But Xstrata is unwilling to move.

According to a post on the blog Xstrata Facts: “[Xstrata] think a better way forward is to simply scrap all the conditions we currently have and put us all back on to the award.

“Xstrata has applied to Fair Work Australia to have our current Enterprise Agreement terminated … Xstrata’s very confident they can get us back to Ground Zero on conditions, so they’ve simply stopped trying to reach a fair deal with us.”

Chris Cumming, Tahmoor CFMEU lodge president, told Green Left Weekly, “We requested that the Fair Work commission arbitrate on clauses that we don't agree on so we can bring this dispute to an end. We offered to abide by the decision and suspend all industrial action.

“But Xstrata bluntly refused. They simply said they will have what they want when they win the termination of our current agreement.”

Mineworkers started industrial action again on June 4 to force Xstrata to negotiate. They started with three-hour stoppages then progressed to five-hour stoppages. But when they were notified on June 9 that one of the colliery's longwalls was in trouble, the union agreed to call off the action. This shows that, unlike Xstrata, the union is prepared to be reasonable.

Cumming said: “We've got nowhere else to go. We haven't had a pay rise since April 2008 and we've been trying to negotiate an agreement since October 2008. But Xstrata won't budge.” According to the CFMEU, Xstrata made $200 million from Tahmoor in its first year of purchasing the mine and $28 million in its second, while suffering the effects of the global financial crisis.

Xstrata claims it would suffer major job losses and colliery closures due to the Federal Government’s proposed Resources Super Profits Tax. Cumming said these claims are totally false. “The super-profits tax wont cost any jobs. In fact it will make smaller players in the industry more viable”, he said.

“The big companies don't want this. They want smaller companies to struggle so they can take them over. When Xstrata bought Tahmoor colliery they were selling coal at an average of $77 per tonne. Now they're selling at $220 per tonne. They simply have no excuse to deny us a fair go.”

Cumming said that the workers would not give in. “We're still trying to negotiate and we're still united. Unity is our strongest fighting weapon, and we will continue to take action for a fair go.”

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