South32 coal miners vote for industrial action in Illawarra

More than 90 per cent of workers from the Dendrobium coal mine favour industrial action. Photo: BloombergSouth32 could encounter the first industrial action of its short history in coming weeksafter some Illawarra Coal workers voted in favour of taking industrial action.
Nanjing Night Net

Continuing the company’s difficult start to life, more than 90 per cent of workers from the Dendrobium coal mine, which is one of three in the Illawarra business, voted in a favour of taking unspecified action in a ballot on Friday.

The vote, which was run by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), authorises the staff to take a range of industrial action– from limitations on production through to strikes – provided they give South32 at least 72 hours’ notice.

The workers’ enterprise agreement expired in April 2014 when the business was owned by BHP Billiton. However, ithas remained unresolved and is an issuefor South32 to manage in the wake of thedemerger by BHP in May.

Much of the dispute relates to clauses about job security, which the workers want included in a new workplace agreementin a bid to protect themselves against the introduction of casual staff.

CFMEU spokesman Bob Timbswould not rule out strike action when contacted on Mondaybut said the workers did not want the dispute to get that far.

“We hope we can get to a stage where we can avoid industrial action,” he said.

It is believed the union and South32 will meet for further discussions as early as Wednesday.

The workplace agreement for staff at South32’s other Illawarra coal mines, Appin and West Cliff, expired last month. It is believed those workers may seek similar security clauses in their next workplace deal.

South32 declined to comment. However, ithas started givingDendrobium workers a six-monthpay increase as a sign of good faith, and as a sign of its commitment to settling a deal.

The workplace rumbling at Illawarra Coal comes as a commodity price slump continues to affectthe young company.

Shares in the miner fell 1¢ to a new low of $1.685 on Monday, meaning the stock was 29 per cent lower than it was in mid-May.

Most analysts believe the miner, which has negligible debt,is a buying opportunity at current prices, particularly given the potential for a takeover offer.

In a note about Australian coal producers published on Monday, credit rating agency Moody’s named South32 among the more resilient producers in Australia, along with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto.

Moody’s givesSouth32 a “Baa1 stable” credit rating.

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