Glencore locks out coal miners

Glencore has locked workers out of its Oaky North underground coal mine. The 9 June lockout is a response to CFMEU members' efforts to protect their working conditions. Workers have established a 24 hour protest in front of the mine site.

The Oaky North mine produces hard coking coal for export markets and is one of three mines forming part of Glencore’s Oaky Creek mining complex. The mine is located just outside the small town of Tieri, about 900 kilometres north-west of Brisbane in Queensland’s Bowen Basin. Tieri was established by the company in 1983 to accommodate its mining workforce.

Glencore is a global “behemoth” according to Fortune magazine: “[T]he commodities that Glencore mines and moves now touch virtually every facet of our hyperwired lives”. In 2015, it sold more than $170 billion worth of commodities on the world market.

Its workplace agreement with Oaky North miners expired two and a half years ago. The union has been bargaining for a new agreement since. Recently, workers began implementing work bans and stop-works.

The CFMEU says that Glencore wants to strip from the agreement workers’ rights to union representation in workplace disputes. It also wants the power unilaterally to change rosters and introduce workplace changes that may compromise workers’ safety.

All offers put by the union have been rejected. In mid June, the workers proposed rolling over conditions from their current agreement, negotiated in 2012, for another two years and taking no pay increase. The company refused, appearing determined to maintain its hardline approach and push its workforce backwards.

“If Glencore got their way, it would set an extremely dangerous precedent for pay and conditions across the entire mining workforce in Queensland”, Chris Brodsky, vice-president of the mining and energy division of the Queensland branch of the CFMEU, told Red Flag.

During the mining boom, the Oaky North miners, some of whom have been at the mine for more than 20 years, delivered the company more than $1 billion in profit. According to Brodsky, this is why the workers will stand firm against the company’s attack. “They don’t feel they have a right to give these conditions away”, he said.

Oaky North miners have the backing of the local community. Solidarity and food deliveries to the locked-out workers are being organised by the tightly knit Tieri township.