Port Kembla Coal Terminal locks out 60 workers after CFMEU takes protected industrial action
The Port Kembla Coal Terminal, south of Wollongong, has locked out about 60 of its workers as part of an intensifying dispute about its future.
The lockout began on Sunday after Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) members took protected industrial action to fight the terminal’s bid to scrap the current enterprise agreement.
The terminal has exported local coal since the 1960s and is currently transitioning to highly mechanised loading equipment as part of a $300 million upgrade.
Workers’ pay suspended: union
CFMEU south-west district vice-president Bob Timbs said members affected by the lockout would effectively have their pay suspended for five days.
He said the union has called on the Coal Terminal’s five shareholders — Tahmoor Coal, South32, Centennial Coal, Wollongong Coal and Peabody Energy — to intervene.
“It’s industrial madness, I’ve been in the heavy industry for 30 years and I’ve never seen an attack like this,” Mr Timbs said.
“I don’t know why they’re doing this, and I don’t know what the end game is for them.
Operations at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal (PKCT) were continuing on Monday despite the lockout, with a ship loading 74,000 tonnes of coking coal to Japan.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions president Ged Kearney said the lockout was a worrying and unprecedented move.
“It’s the first type of action by an employer that we’ve seen in this area, but unfortunately this is a pattern that’s happening around the country at the moment where big strong employers are resorting to tactics that are very unwelcome in our industrial landscape,” Ms Kearney said.
“One of the companies down there involved in this dispute, Glencore, has actually got quite a number of its workers locked out of another workplace in Queensland, called Oaky North, and they’ve been locked out for 180 days up there.
“That is very worrying and that is not how we do industrial relations in this country. We have always sat down, have always bargained and got a mutually beneficial outcome.”
‘We’re not commercially competitive’
At its peak, the terminal was loading more than 14 million tonnes of coal a year, but operations manager John Gorman said they were forecast to only process 5.1 million tonnes this year — the lowest throughput on record.
He said there was an urgent need to cut costs to ensure they could continue exporting coal from the Illawarra.
“Production levels are significantly down from what we anticipated even 12 months ago, we’re probably 50 per cent below what we thought we would be doing,” Mr Gorman said.
“My challenge is to lead this business, such that we can become more competitive and attract more coal to be exported through PKCT.”
Mr Gorman said arrangements in place would ensure exports would continue this week, allowing coal mines in southern New South Wales to continue operating.
“I’m very confident in the team that we’ve got here to continue to provide a critical service to the Illawarra,” he said.
“We’re using a range of resources that are dedicated, trained and competent to operate this facility, and it’s very important we continue to keep doing that.”