Mount Pleasant mine strike over safety concerns
Summary: ABOUT 250 workers downed tools for three days this week at Muswellbrook’s Mount Pleasant coal mine after a colleague was injured in a rigging accident that revealed what unions say was a shocking lack of safety systems at the mine.....
Australian Manufacturing Workers Union assistant state secretary Cory Wright said the injured man needed surgery after an upper-arm muscle was “torn from the bone” in the accident. He was driven to John Hunter Hospital by another union official after management’s response had been to take him to his accommodation to “to rest”.
NSW government safety regulators say they had been to the mine recently to look at other safety issues, and would investigate this latest incident now they had been alerted to it.
The mine’s owner, Mach Energy, confirmed the accident and the resultant three-day strike but said the matter – including the union allegations about a lack of first-aid and safety systems – was an issue for the contractor, G&S Engineering, to deal with.
G&S did not respond on Thursday to numerous requests for comment, having taken the manufacturing workers union, the CFMEU’s construction division and the Electrical Trades Union to the Fair Work Commission on Wednesday, arguing the stoppage was an illegal strike.
A Fair Work spokesperson said the company withdrew its application during the proceedings so no decision was published.
Mr Wright said the 250 or so striking workers had gone back to work “with no high risk duties” until G&S implemented the proper safety systems, including a first-aid office and an emergency response team.
Also in Muswellbrook, another mining industry company, the stockmarket listed Austin Engineering, is shutting its Hunter Valley operation at the end of the month, putting 100 people out of work.
In a statement to the stock exchange, the company said its Muswellbrook operation “had not reached a sustainable level and . . . would not make a positive contribution to group results”.
Mr Wright said the company had pledged that all entitlements would be paid but the entire workforce of 100 would go because of decisions made by “previous management”.
“The global chief executive told the floor that previous managers had signed up to heavy contracts that were losing them money every month,” Mr Wright said. He said some of the contracts had been transferred to other suppliers and others had been put to tender.
“The current management have done all they can but it’s a classic situation of workers taking the impact when management make mistakes,” Mr Wright said.
On the safety situation at Mount Pleasant, the AMWU organiser said the workers on-site were extremely angry at the way their mate had been treated after injuring himself on the job
“They just took him home without treatment,” Mr Wright said. “In this day and age when we are supposed to have all these sorts of things in place, this is simply unwarranted.”
Mount Pleasant was bought as an undeveloped mine site in 2015 by interests associated with Indonesian billionaire Anthoni Salim.
G&S is part of a joint venture that won a $149 million contract in March last year to design and build a coal-handling plant and rail-loading facility at the mine. The work was supposed to have finished about now but a Mach spokesperson confirmed that “the timeline had changed” and that it was unlikely to be finished until after September.
Thiess announced last April it had won a $500 million contract to operate the mine until 2021, and the Mach spokesperson said coal was already being mined, with about 90 people working a day shift on production. The coal was being stockpiled until the washery and rail facilities were finished.
G&S said initially that 160 people would be employed on the construction contract but G&S workers said the number was up to 250 with “not enough crib huts for everybody”.
“We want to work, believe me, I’m not up here at Muswellbrook for the love of it,” one worker said.
“But the way they treated our mate last week, telling us it was a soft tissue injury when it was nothing like it, was the last straw. We’d had enough.”
On a Facebook page, workers said: “Our comrade will undergo up to six months of rehabilitation and his co-workers have whipped up $10,000 from their own pockets in lieu of his wage until his insurance kicks in. Stay tuned . . .”