The Guardian February 24, 1999


Chain Valley mine closes:
Mineworkers stand up to multi-national

Striking mineworkers at Chain Valley, NSW Central Coast, have been 
picketing the coal mine for the past 13 weeks. Last week the company, COAL 
(Coal Operations Australia Ltd), closed the mine.

The picket began after the company put a "take it or leave it" offer for a 
new enterprise agreement that would have turned wages and conditions on 
their head and shut out the union.

The company demanded the abolition of seniority provisions; all employees 
to be paid the same, irrespective of skill-level, resulting in a wage cut 
for workers; the introduction of 12.5-hour shifts; no restriction on the 
company's use of casual and contract labour; and a ban on union meetings on 
site.

CFMEU Mining Division Northern District Vice-President Peter Murray said 
that the union continued to seek negotiations with the company but each 
time the company's demands became more outrageous.

"They presented us with an ultimatum, to accept the shocking new terms of 
their proposal or they would close the mine", said Mr Murray.

On January 18, the 42 CFMEU members were given four-weeks' notice.

The dispute has been growing since April, 1994, when the company rejected 
the workers' claims for a new certified agreement.

While a two-year interim agreement was agreed to, the company, buoyed by 
the election of a conservative government, still refused to negotiate a 
certified agreement. The company kept stalling until the Federal 
Government's Award-stripping process came into effect in July 1998.

After the coal award was stripped, the company served the workers a list of 
demands, including a number of very sensitive issues on contractors, casual 
labour, total flexibility of all employees including staff, no provision 
for seniority rights and a ban on union meetings on site.

Mr Murray said, "No alternative was left other than protected industrial 
action, which we applied for". The workers went on an indefinite strike as 
of November 19, 1998.

After the union had applied for the protected action, the company tried to 
provoke the men to walk out, and thereby lose their rights to protected 
action, by instructing a worker to operate a bolting rig on his own without 
following proper safety procedures.

When he refused he was sent home on two consecutive days.

The IRC refused the company's requests to intervene, and in December the 
company was forced back to the negotiating table. Once again, the company 
put up the same list of demands.

Apart from those already mentioned, it included: a dispute procedure that 
provided for no industrial action, but with the ability for the company to 
stand down employees; open, unrestricted selection of new employees with 
all new employees given a six-month trial period; no crew sizes or safe 
allocation of manning; sick leave paid out six monthly in advance. No bonus 
to apply; performance review for future retrenchments; unfettered right to 
select and use casuals to perform all and any tasks; and no minimum 
overtime blocks  work on RDOs.

The picketing workers again rejected this offer. The company's next offer 
included all the previous demands plus the right to have employees work 
12.5-hour shifts on one week's notice.

At a subsequent meeting with the union, the company again put forward the 
same demands, and threatened to close the mine if the union did not agree.

It is evident from the outset that the company was not prepared to 
negotiate or compromise as it stubbornly pursued its aim of de-unionising 
the mine.

It is possible the company may be thinking about "doing a Gordonstone"  
selling the mine to a new owner and/or employing non-union labour under a 
new non-union certified agreement.

Mr Murray said, "These 42 members stood their ground and took on a multi-
national company with the knowledge that their jobs were at risk ...

"They were not prepared to give away working conditions that could have 
flowed on to the underground industry and should be proud of that fact, and 
should be remembered by others who will be faced with similar attacks by 
these types of operators."

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