Four hundred workers have been stood down by a Queensland coal mine, in a dispute the mining union says could become the “Patrick’s of the outback”.
The company is refusing to re-employ the workers unless they agree to accept cuts to entitlements and greater “flexibility”.
The mine’s operator, Thiess, ended their contracts on 31 August and handed the mine over to Glencore (formerly Xstrata).
It has now shut down the mine at Collinsville in North Queensland in an effort to force workers to accept the new conditions. The CFMEU’s mining division has legal advice suggesting that if it keeps the mine closed for three months, it can legally impose a new agreement and avoid re-employing the 400 workers.
The union fears that Glencore will attempt to bring in a new workforce to de-unionise operations. There are “obvious parallels to what happened with Patrick’s on the waterfront [in 1998], with the replacement workforce”, according to CFMEU’s Steve Smyth.
Glencore is demanding an agreement that is “modern, flexible and without restrictions”.
It wants to either force workers onto individual contacts or implement a greenfields agreement on the site. These are only supposed to apply to new projects, not existing mines like the one at Collinsville. It is refusing to give preference to re-employing those who have worked at the mine previously when it reopens. In fact Donna Bulloch, who runs a group supporting miners and their families in the town told the media, “I’ve heard through some of the people who are employed out there that they’re not even guaranteed an interview, let alone a job back there”.
“It churns my stomach to think that a multinational company like Glencore can come into a community that has been built by the miners for families, that they can just come in and just rip it to pieces”, she said.
The union is preparing a protest strategy to fight to save the jobs.