MAC: Mines and Communities

Australian coal miners call 3-day strike against Xstrata

Published by MAC on 2010-02-23
Source: Reuters

Union federation condemns global corporate attrition

It may have been announced as only a three-day strike at a relatively small colliery.

However, discontent by Australian workers with UK-Swiss mining giant, Xstrata, has been boiling throughout the past year.

Earlier this month, workers at the company's Tahmoor mine in New South Wales decided to stop work in support of their demands for better pay and conditions.

The global mineworkers federation, ICEM, sees this strike as "a key test in Australia regarding a company shifting the burden of the recent economic collapse onto workers." Says  the ICEM:

"From Russia to Chile, at Europe's largest zinc deposits in Ireland's County Meath, where 670 were retrenched by Tara Mines, to the hundreds of thousands of migrant miners across the world who are out of work with no place to go, it is workers who are paying the unjust price of capital's failure."

[There is a dedicated blog site on Xstrata, on which a comment (reproduced below), relating to the Tahmoor crisis, was posted on 17 February. Visit the site at:]

Tahmoor coal miners call 3 day strike - Xstrata

The strike at the Australian colliery is the latest in a series of disputes between management and workers over wages.

James Regan, Reuters

17 February 2010

SYDNEY - Workers at Xstrata Plc's Tahmoor coal mine have called a three-day strike, the latest in a series of work stoppages over wages affecting productivity at the Australian colliery, Xstrata said on Wednesday.

In the past 15 months, workers have staged more than 320 hours, or nearly two weeks, of work stoppages at the 2 million-tonnes per year mine. Weekly production at the mine is about 55,000 tonnes of coal that is used to make steel.

The actions by Australia's Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) are having a "significant" impact on production from the mine, an Xstrata spokesman said.

Xstrata's production report for the 12 months ended December 31, 2009, showed an overall 7 percent drop in coking coal production in Australia, which the report partly attributed to the stoppages at the Tahmoor mine.

International coking coal prices are forecast to climb to as much as $200 a tonne this year as bad weather and tighter lending practices in China lead to lower domestic output there, according to analysts, pushing Xstrata, BHP Billiton and others to run at full stride.

Xstrata's Australian coking coal sold for an average of $145 per tonne FoB in 2009, according to the company.

Swiss-based Xstrata last week was forced to halt output at the mine and lock-out employees for a week over failure to reach a wage agreement after 15 months of negotiations.

About 380 staff and contractors work at the Tahmoor mine.

The company's communications manager, James Rickards, said coal buyers were being kept informed of the interruptions to production caused by the actions.

Rickards said workers returned to work on Monday after the lockout ended but opted to call a strike on Wednesday.

CFMEU officials could not be immediately reached for comment. Xstrata has warned the actions were not in the long-term interest of the mine.

Workers at Xstrata's nearby Bulga mine were locked out for 24 hours after a weekend-long strike -- the first industrial action at the mine in six years. (Editing by Ed Lane)

CFMEU in Australia Battle Over Mining Jobs in Economic Downturn

ICEM website

12 January 2010

Australia's Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union's (CFMEU) fight to preserve mining jobs against a MNC's callousness, making workers the victims of an economic downturn, got a ruling in the Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC) last week.

That ruling, delivered on 8 January, calls for a one-week consultation period - beginning today - in which Xstrata must justify its ill-taken decision to sack 230 coal miners at Oaky Creek No. 1 Mine in Queensland.

The case stands as a key test in Australia regarding a company shifting the burden of the recent economic collapse onto workers. CFMEU is not alone at present in fiercely resisting job cuts because of a failed neo-liberal economic agenda. From Russia to Chile, at Europe's largest zinc deposits in Ireland's County Meath, where 670 were retrenched by Tara Mines, to the hundreds of thousands of migrant miners across the world who are out of work with no place to go, it is workers who are paying the unjust price of capital's failure.

The CFMEU fightback is just one example of the necessary, the pivotally necessary response that is needed to re-shape a social agenda.

In Bolivia, the FSTMB mine union federation staged protests on 9 January calling on the country's leftist government to allow no layoffs. That came just after Xstrata's holding partner - Swiss-based Glencore International - announced job cuts of 700 zinc and lead mines, and at the Sinchi Wayra smelting plant. Workers threatened to take over the operations if the sackings came.

In Brazil, iron ore miners of Vale stopped work last Thursday, 8 January, at a mine in Itabira over the mining company's decision to retrench 1,300 jobs. Itabira, in Minas Gerais state, is where Vale was founded. Mining union Metabase says that as many as 10,000 miners could lose their jobs in Brazil because of economic cuts.

In South Africa, estimates say that 40,000 miners could be out work through 2009 because of the economic meltdown. Many will be migrant workers. ICEM and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) President Senzeni Zokwana predicted the social impact of such sudden and unprecedented joblessness will be far-reaching and disturbing.

In Australia on 16 December, Anglo-Swiss Xstrata levelled a surprise on the 1,800-person town of Tieri, central Queensland, by announcing that the jobs of miners at one part of Oaky Creek's rich coal seams would be indefinitely suspended.

ICEM-affiliated CFMEU took the matter to the AIRC to prevent the sackings. In arbitration hearings on 22 December, and again from 6-7 January in Brisbane, CFMEU argued that Xstrata's price drops are a speck in comparison with its recent coal pricing history has reverted only to early 2008 thermal coal prices to meet slowing demand from the steel industry. Xstrata has an industry-wide reputation, especially over Oaky Creek's high-quality coking coal, of driving prices upward in tight markets, thus making it the industry's price-setter during boom times.

The CFMEU sought a four-week period for the consultative process. The AIRC gave the process a week to work. The CFMEU seeks to get Xstrata to place retrenched workers in its other Queensland operations, specifically Oaky Creek North, a separate longwall operation. The company resists. The union has charged Xstrata with stonewalling the AIRC process, relying on former Howard government work laws to justify its privilege to inflict social degradation on workers.

"Xstrata has chosen to take advantage of John Howard's WorkChoices laws and argues heartlessly that they are not required to afford workers natural justice in the redundancy process," said CFMEU Mining and Energy Vice President Stuart Vaccaneo. "This really is corporate cowboy stuff."

For the company's part, in December, a spokesman called CFMEU guilty of political posturing by wasting the AIRC's time in bringing the legal case. Vaccaneo called that the "height of arrogance," given what 230 Queensland families face. "It's not about politics-it's about the future of (these) workers and their families."

Following the 8 January AIRC ruling mandating this week as the week for labour-management consultation, a company spokesman said Xstrata will talk to the union, but "we have appropriately managed those people" affected.

Some 450 job cuts were announced in December in Queensland. Although the Xstrata Oaky Creek case is the most high profile one, other mining enterprises in the region like Macarthur Coal Ltd. and Oz Minerals, a zinc producer, have also fired miners.

Oaky Creek, first starting production in 1983, was bought by Xstrata when it took over MIM Holdings in 2003. Xstrata owns 55% of Oaky Creek, while Japanese companies Sumisho Coal, Itocho Coal, and ICRA OC Ltd. hold remaining ownership. Oaky Creek exports 11 million metric tonnes annually to steel mills in Europe, Japan, and North and South America.

We're right behind you fellas

Kristy Leigh Lewis

Xstrata Facts website -

17 February 2010

I grew up at The Oaks, just about 10 minutes from Tahmoor. Like most of the locals around here, I've got a strong family connection to Tahmoor Colliery. My Dad's worked there for about 24 years, and my brother and brother-in-law both work there too.

When Dad asked me to help get signatures for a union petition calling on the Federal Government to support the Tahmoor miners, I said "Ok Dad, but everything's done on the internet these days." So I started a Facebook group.

In just over a week, over 1,600 people have joined the group ‘Support Tahmoor Colliery Workers'.

I have to admit I was surprised - but the big reaction shows just how important the colliery is to our community.

There are many messages of support from wives, sons, daughters and parents of Tahmoor miners - as well as community members just saying they'd seen the picket line and wanted to wish them well.

These are typical: "I drive past you guys every morning and night and am so glad your standing up for your rights hope you get all you want and deserve. There are plenty of people out there supporting you. Don't give up."

And: "Not only are local jobs on the line, but so are the local businesses that the salaries of our miners go towards supporting. Without the money from the jobs of the mines, what will happen to our local communities?"

For the many people in our community with family members at the mine, job security is an important issue. If someone at the mine loses their job, it puts the whole family at risk.

Fair pay and conditions for the miners at Tahmoor Colliery contribute to better security for our whole community.

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