Coal workers to strike in Newcastle


Port Waratah Coal Services workers will take protected strike action next Wednesday from 10am to 2pm following the breakdown of talks this week

Coal workers to strike in Newcastle
Coal workers to strike in Newcastle

By Anna Game-Lopata | May 10, 2013

Workers employed by Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS)
based at Newcastle will undertake a four hour work stoppage next Wednesday between 10am and 2pm (AEST) following the breakdown of talks this week.

Four unions, representing workers
at
the company's Kooragang Island and Carrington coal loading terminals,
will walk off the job for having last night escalated their industrial action from overtime bans from Sunday to a strike.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Transport Workers Union (TWU), Electrical Trade Union (ETU), and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) notified PWCS last night of the latest decision.

"We would have preferred to reach agreement without taking these actions, but given PWCS’s anti-worker, anti-union posture, our members are moving forward to exercise their legal rights," says MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray.

MUA Newscastle branch secretary Glen Williams adds the unions reject PWCS's
suggestion earlier in the week
issues around productivity
and flexibility are a stumbling block.

"Our members have shown over many, many years that they have been a willing partner in mutually agreed workplace changes that have benefited both PWCS and its employees," Williams says.

The unions and PWCs have been negotiating terms for a new enterprise bargaining agreement since July.

They claim PWCS is trying to make changes to a previously successful agreement by altering dispute procedure and contract labour clauses.

Respectively, they say, the changes will restrict the union's ability to challenge the company and threaten job security.

"PWCS has threatened to replace our members with inexperienced operators who are given a crash course in operating a 300-tonne mobile ship loader," claims TWU Newcastle & Northern NSW Sub-Branch secretary Mick Forbes.

"That will increase the risk of personal injury and potential damage to the ships and loaders. It greatly increases our members fear, it’s not fair, it’s not productive and it’s certainly not as safe."

In addition the unions say PWCS refuses to agree to allow sick or injured members to take leave without pay as a qualifying period before they can access their salary continuance insurance.

The unions say
their proposal would be a
better system than workers being"forced" to use up all their leave before they can access their insurance which they say is currently the case.

The union rejected PWCS’s most recent offer presented earlier in the week, serving a letter to the company on Tuesday which outlined the overtime bans they were initially planning.

A last ditch meeting held between the parties on Wednesday failed to come
up with an agreement.

PWCS spokesperson Paul Chamberlin says despite the company’s disappointment about the escalation of industrial action at the facility, PWCS is hopeful and committed to resolution.

He says a further meeting has been planned for Tuesday next week in an attempt to resolve the dispute.

While still unable to comment fully on all the union’s claims, Chamberlin strongly denies the suggestion inexperienced people would ever be contracted to handle coal loaders or any other equipment at the port.

"Safety is paramount for PWCS and it is an issue we take very seriously," he says.

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