Workers camp at Parliament House

March 11, 1998

By Russell Pickering
and Sue Bull

On March 2, 300 workers from the Cobar CSA copper mine and Grafton's Gilbertson's meatworks picketed Parliament House to protest their sacking and the non-payment of their entitlements.

The joint protest demanded that the federal government force the companies to pay $9.5 million owed to the Cobar mineworkers and $3 million to the Grafton meatworkers. The Cobar workers refused to leave until they were given a guarantee by the government to secure their entitlements.

Cobar Mine Pty Ltd is owned by Ashanti Gold, purchased in a merger intended to acquire gold mines in Africa. Not being part of this plan, the Cobar mine was put up for sale.

Last August, a buyer was found and future sales ("hedgings") were sold by the company, ensuring profitability until 2002, irrespective of the spot price of copper. However, the eventual sale coincided with a drop in the price of copper and a management decision to reduce development of the mine. Bankruptcy was declared and on January 21 the workers were sacked and told the company could not pay their entitlements.

Workers told Green Left Weekly that some of those sacked had more than 30 years service at the mine. The workers also discovered that their contributions to the work-based health fund had gone missing and they were no longer entitled to benefits.

In Grafton, the Gilbertson's meatworks went into receivership on October 7. Workers continued working two days a week to help keep the company saleable. On December 12, the company went bankrupt and the entire work force was sacked. Apart from a few nominal payments, workers have not received their entitlements.

On March 4, a delegation led by Steve Roach, secretary of the Shearers and Rural Workers Union which covers most workers at the Cobar mine, met with John Howard. Howard said the Australian Securities Commission would pursue Ashanti, but he refused to consider any changes to company law to give priority to the payment of workers' entitlements before business creditors.

The miners and meatworkers have vowed to continue struggling for their entitlements. As Cobar's Norm Lawrence told Green Left: "We've got nothing to go back to."

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