Tahmoor picket over safety and job security continues

February 21, 2010

The picket line outside Xstrata Coal's Tahmoor colliery is continuing. It marks a continuation of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union's (CFMEU) 17-month struggle to negotiate an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) with Xstrata.

After industrial action over job security and safety conditions, more than 200 coalminers were locked out with no pay, from February 8-15. As Xstrata refuses to negotiate with the union, the workers are now on strike and staff the picket line 24 hours a day.

Miners at the colliery are on the lowest rate of pay of any coal mine in Australia, with a base rate of just $25.96 per hour. However, the main concerns raised by the union are the removal of workplace safety and job security, as well as discrimination and victimisation clauses, from the EBA.

For example, the new agreement proposed by Xstrata undercuts the number of workers required at the coalface to operate the machinery safely.

This is despite the fact that in the two years since purchasing the mine, Xstrata has made a $200 million and $28 million (during the financial crisis) profit respectively. Chris Cumming, president of the Tahmoor Colliery Lodge, told Green Left Weekly: "It's pure greed, and Work Choices all over again".

In response to the CFMEU, Xstrata says it has offered miners a 25% pay rise over the next four years. However, Cumming contested this and said the figure is being calculated by "rolling existing entitlements into the base rate of pay" for workers and "offering bonuses for unrealistic tonnage".

The proposed agreement also removes mention of the union from the contract. Cumming said: "This [contract] is about absolutely destroying the union in this workplace — as they plan to everywhere".

In a show of solidarity, South Coast Labour Council (SCLC) secretary Arthur Rorris and workers from the Maritime Union of Australia joined the picket line on February 17. Rorris told the February 12 Illawarra Mercury: "The unions of the South Coast are standing solidly behind the Tahmoor miners."

On February 10, a resolution was passed by the SCLC in support of the Tahmoor workers.

Those on the picket line expect the dispute to continue as long as Xstrata refuses to come to the negotiating table. Cumming said the miners would remain on the picket line "for the long haul".

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