Xstrata locks out Tahmoor mineworkers again

Mineworkers picket Xstrata’s Tahmoor colliery. The workers have fought for more than 22 months for a fair enterprise agreement

Coalminers in Tahmoor have been locked out of their workplace again. They've been fighting with their employer, the coal giant Xstrata, for more than 22 months for a fair, new Enterprise Agreement.

Attempts to negotiate have collapsed repeatedly because the company has refused to budge, even during mediated talks.

During a workplace dispute over job security and safety conditions, the workers held a six-hour strike on February 7, followed by a 24-hour stoppage on February 8.

From February 8-15, Xstrata locked out the more than 200 workers with no pay, a dirty tactic given that in Tahmoor one job in every four is connected to the mine.

Workers started industrial action again on June 4 to pressure Xstrata to come to the table. 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.

But on August 20, Xstrata locked out the 200 workers again — this time until September 7. Bob Timbs, vice-president of the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) lodge in Tahmoor, wrote on the blog Xstratafacts.com: “Last week, we took a vote on the latest offer from the company.

“The two main points of contention for miners were the lack of job security, including the lack of a ‘contractors clause’ that would put some limits around the way contractors are used; and compulsory 12-hour shifts.

“Members at Tahmoor want shifts over 10 hours to be negotiated on a case-by-[case basis], to ensure against fatigue. The vote against Xstrata’s offer was overwhelming — six for, 197 against. This lock-out is pure retaliation — a bullying tactic by a company that didn’t get its own way.”

Xstrata has accused the CFMEU of “undermining negotiations” because the locked-out mineworkers are receiving so-called “strike pay”. The company has just reported that its first-half year profits for 2010 have tripled. Xstrata's net income rose to $US2.3 billion from $690 million a year earlier.

Timbs told the August 25 Illawarra Mercury: “It’s not strike pay from the union, it is money that has been given to us through a trust fund … all the other miners in Australia are throwing in for us.”

Timbs said the company was angry it wasn’t able to “starve the blokes out”.