Sunday 18th Mar, 2018

Coal workers shut out at Port Kembla as operator struggles to compete

Port Kembla. Photo: Southern Cross Maritime
Port Kembla. Photo: Southern Cross Maritime

Roughly 60 workers have been shut out at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal, with the terminal’s operator saying unions are putting the long-term viability of the site at risk.

PKCT is owned by Tahmoor Coal, South32, Centennial Coal, Wollongong Coal and Peabody Energy.

According to operations manager John Gorman, the site is struggling to compete – in its current state – with the massive coal terminals at Newcastle, 190 kilometres to the north.

Gorman says production levels at the port are down “significantly” from where they were a year ago, and his customers have said the terminal is not “commercially competitive” in the export market.

“Our 5.1 million tonnes [of throughput in 2018] will be the lowest throughput on record and I’ve been telling my employees for many, many months it is absolutely critical to right now set up the safe, sustainable operation of PKCT so it’s here in the long term,” Gorman was quoted as saying to Fairfax this week.

“There are some significant risks to that at the moment and we need to be doing everything we can – and having a competitive enterprise agreement is a significant element of that.”

The lockout at the coal terminal, which sits in the southern half of Wollongong, was triggered after Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) members moved to take protected industrial action over PKCT’s desire to scrap the existing enterprise agreement.

PKCT is undergoing a $300 million upgrade, which includes the introduction of modern, highly-mechanised loading equipment.

It wants to reduce what it perceives to be generous superannuation rates granted to workers, as well as extensive sick leave benefits. It is also trying to wrest control from the union over key rostering and team management rights.

Speaking with ABC, CFMEU south-west district vice-president Bob Timbs called the five-day lockout “madness”.

“I’ve been in the heavy industry for 30 years and I’ve never seen an attack like this,” Timbs was quoted as saying.

“I don’t know why they’re doing this, and I don’t know what the end game is for them. We’ve done everything we can to try and get an agreement with this company. It seems like it’s everything or nothing.”