Contributed from Western Australia
The strike by maintenance workers at the Griffin Coal Mining Company’s mine in Collie Western Australia has for just over ten weeks now.
This dispute has been going on for more than a year, making this the longest running coalfields dispute , since the Scottish Colliery strike of 1911.
Strikers have survived with the support of the Collie Fighting Fund, which has collected donations from supporters.
The reason for the strike is the company’s intention to cut wages by 43 percent and the members of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), refused to accept it. Management not been prepared to back down either.
Some part of operations have continued, through the engagement of some contractors. This is seen to be mainly a means to put pressure on the strikers, rather than any hope of maintaining the mine on full operation.
That the Fair Work Commission allows this practice, even under its own bargaining period conditions has not gone unnoticed and fits in with a pattern that has been occurring around Australia. It has been suggested at Collie that this does little to enhance the reputation of the commission, in terms of operating in an even handed way, or minimising the severity or length of industrial disputes.
In this case there is an extra element and that is that Indian based parent company Lanco Infraftec, which took over the Griffin coal Mining company in 2011. It turns out that this company is now being sued for bankruptcy by the Reserve Bank of India, over certain investment decisions concerning bad loans. Lanco is at the head of a list of 12 companies being investigated for $12 billion of lost funds.
A consequence is that the future of the continuation of the Griffin Coal Mining Company and the mine at collie are now been thrown into doubt. This is a blow for the workers and the local community. Facing the need to try and keep the mine operating, where there are few other employment opportunities, the workers have indicated that they are prepared to forego a portion of their wages. But they are still refusing to accept ongoing attempts to downgrade their working conditions.
The union has instigated arbitration proceedings. Unfortunately, a decision is not expected until December at the earliest and this might to too late. The mine might be closed down.
Union State Secretary Steve McCartney said, “If the company keeps pushing back in the way that they are and being unreasonable about real suggestions going forward, then it’s going to leave us no other option…”.
Parent company facing bankruptcy