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Workers to strike at South32 mine

BHP Billiton has appointed non-executive directors for South32, subject to stakeholder opinion

Mineworkers at BHP spin-off South32’s Dendrobium mine in the Illawarra will strike from 6am tomorrow for seven days after the collapse of negotiations today over a new Enterprise Agreement.

CFMEU Mining and Energy Division South West District Vice President Bob Timbs said that the union had been attempting for the past 18-months to reach a new Enterprise Agreement.

“We sat down with the company again today and put forward some proposals designed to break the deadlock and we are very disappointed with their refusal to come to fair terms,” he said.

The main stumbling block is a Security of Employment clause which would protect permanent employment and provide future job opportunities for contract mine workers.

A statement from the CFMEU said in recent years, BHP and now South32 have increasingly made use of lower paid labour hire and contractors to do work normally performed by permanent full time employees.

“Contractors can be paid around $500 per week less than full time employees. Most contractors employed in recent times do not have access to conditions such as annual leave, sick leave, redundancy pay and top up accident pay,” the statement said.

Mr Timbs said contractors were supposed to be used to fill temporary gaps in the labour force, not to replace permanent full time jobs.

“The company appears to be entering into a strategy of replacing permanent full time employees with contractors when workers retire, resign or are promoted, meaning the permanent workforce is slowly but surely being casualised,” he said.

“Around 20 per cent of the workers employed at this mine are now contractors and that number is considerably higher at other South32 mines. It’s going to keep increasing unless we take a stand.

“This has nothing to do with coal prices, it’s part of a concerted effort by the company to casualise its workforce and avoid its obligations to permanent workers. We have contractors who have been here for years, so they’re not filling gaps, they’re just being ripped off and should be offered permanent positions at the mine.

“BHP and now South32 are multinational companies that have extracted billions of dollars out of the Illawarra and they’re using every trick in the book to dodge their obligation to workers.”

Mr Timbs said the union had always understood the need for temporary labour during the mining boom, but in the past these extra staff would then transition into permanent, secure, full time jobs.

“Now South32 is taking advantage of the labour hire workers brought onsite during the boom. Instead of ensuring they are first in line to pick up permanent positions, they are keeping them in precarious, underpaid work,” he said.

“Workers are calling for a Security of Employment clause in the next Enterprise Agreement which would require the company to replace a permanent full time employee with another permanent full time employee and in times of redundancy maintain permanent employees over over labour hire.

“We also want protections to be put into place so contract workers who do not have their own Enterprise Agreement receive fair pay in line with that of permanent workers.

“For the last 150 or 160 years in the Illawarra area, the mining industry has been a source of good, permanent, secure jobs for our local people. We won’t stand by and let big multinational mining companies casualise our workforce and drive our workers and their families into insecure and badly paid labour hire arrangements.”

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