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Employer cancels driverless truck plan at coal mine

Whitehaven Coal workers
Whitehaven Coal workers

A major mining company will not automate heavy vehicles at one of its operations.

Whitehaven Coal recently stopped trialling its autonomous haulage systems (AHS) at the Maules Creek mine. Management reached the decision after labour shortages eased.

“We will move back to a fully manned frame of operation there in the third quarter, so the March quarter [of 2024],” managing director Paul Flynn said at an investor update.

“The decision obviously to move back demand at AHS obviously was influenced by the fact that we do have labour available to us. That has improved … [and] we are seeing greater access to the skills that we need.”

Flynn also indicated the mine would not use driverless trucks for the unforeseeable future.

“A decision to conclude the autonomous haulage trial and resume fully manned operations was taken during the quarter and the operation is now operating fully manned,” he said.

The remarks came months after 300 employees rejected Whitehaven’s bid to introduce WorkChoices agreement offsets, which reportedly absorb future superannuation increases and strip those affected of up to $100,000 in accrued entitlements. This was feared to affect those planning to retire or accept a redundancy package.

Very negative feedback prompted management to withdraw its proposal.

“We have heard your feedback about the guarantee of annual earnings clause and the potential for this to remove entitlements that people currently enjoy. This is not Whitehaven’s intent,” executive general manager – operations Ian Humphris previously said in an internal email obtained by the Collieries’ Staff and Officials Association (CSOA).

“Whitehaven will be issuing a contract amendment to remove the guarantee of annual earnings clause. This will ensure all transferring Blackwater and Daunia staff can continue to enjoy their current entitlements once they become Whitehaven employees. Whitehaven will also apply this to open cut overseers.”

CSOA congratulated employees on an “incredible win” at the time.

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