Vickery pit: another CRA test case

Issue 

By Shane Hopkinson NEWCASTLE — On October 9, CRA announced a merger with its parent company RTZ to form the largest mining company in the world. The $26.7 billion dollar merger plan was announced by CRA chairman, John Uhrig, who is also a director of the Westpac Bank. The merger will create a global company with over $14 billion in assets, mining 14 minerals in 13 countries, including the infamous copper mine on Bougainville. The combined balance sheet for the two companies shows earnings of $731 million for the first six months of this year. Uhrig said that the merger had not been put before the Foreign Investment Review Board but that, "we made certain the right people knew about it". The federal minister for industry, Senator Cook, indicated that approval would be forthcoming. What does all this mean for working people? Should be pleased that Australian companies now ride high on the world stage? Just how these global goings on affect the lives of ordinary people can be seen in the coalfields near Gunnedah where 28 workers in an open-cut pit called Vickery have staged a 13-week-old picket for their livelihoods. The dispute began when CRA (via its subsidiary Novacoal) sought to increase its profits by introducing 12-hour shifts, lower penalty rates and an end to the closed shop as part of a new enterprise bargain. These changes would result in an average loss of pay for each miner of about $4000 per year. As part of its "negotiations" CRA management has reduced hours and overtime. By August 15, 22 miners had resigned and sought work elsewhere due to financial hardship, and the remaining 28 went on strike. Despite being one of the most efficient pits, Vickery is being used by CRA as a test case to drive down wages and conditions. CRA hopes to move on with the same agenda to other pits in the Hunter Valley where it employs 1500 workers and extracts 15 million tonnes of coal each year. CRA's plan to achieve maximum profitability will rely on the de-unionisation of its work force. The president of the Industrial Relations Commission has accused CRA of being "totally counter productive" in the conciliation process, and refused to refer the matter to arbitration saying that the parties needed to bargain with each other rather than look to the court for a ruling.

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