Cook Colliery: 'Workers are sitting around waiting for a text'

The new Cook Colliery longwall. 
Photo Contributed
The new Cook Colliery longwall. Photo Contributed Contributed

AT least 150 workers at Caledon Resources' Cook Colliery are likely to be affected by the company's new cost cuts after a meeting was called yesterday morning at the mine's site at Blackwater.

In a formal statement, the company announced several expenditure reduction measures to be implemented, including the termination of contract agreements and the standing down of some of the workforce for an expected two-month period.

It is understood workers, both those who are based in Blackwater and those who are fly-in fly-out, would be sent a text message or email within 48 hours, detailing whether they would return to work or be stood down.

Caledon employs about 400 full-time employees and contractors, and it is estimated that around 300 are permanent.

The move follows a significant water inflow event on March 7 in the longwall section of the mine, where water from an unknown source fully inundated the longwall face and equipment.

The Cook Colliery is the company's sole operating asset and source of income, and 85% of the Cook's coal production is sourced from the longwall mining area which was inundated.

"The loss of revenue from its primary production source will have a major financial impact on the company,” Caledon's statement read.

"As a result, it has been necessary to implement several measures to reduce expenditure.

"Most site contractors will be demobilised and, where appropriate, contract agreements will be terminated to avoid ongoing losses.

"Regrettably, it is also necessary to stand down some of the workforce at Cook Colliery for an expected two-month period under the terms of the Cook Colliery Enterprise Agreement.

"This is not a decision the company takes lightly but it is necessary in the circumstances.

"To alleviate the financial impact on employees, the company will provide affected employees with the opportunity to access accrued annual leave or long service leave entitlements for the relevant period, instead of being stood down.”

But it seems workers and unions alike were completely unaware of the decision until they were told at an 11.30am meeting yesterday.

A worker, who will not be identified, contacted The Morning Bulletin prior to the company's midday meeting, speculating that the announcement was to be a mass termination.

He said workers had become nervous when they realised management staff had allegedly been cleared from the Rosewood camp.

It is understood that when work commenced early yesterday only contractors were allowed to start, leaving the permanent workers to attend the meeting.

There were also reports of an increased police presence in Blackwater.

After the news was finally broken to workers, they were allegedly also told that the company would not be offering redundancies or payouts, though this is yet to be confirmed.

Workers were reportedly devastated.

"This is it. This is all I had,” a worker said.

"We find out at the end of today if we have a job or don't have a job.

"Even the FIFO guys can't go home yet, because they don't know.

"There are guys there who haven't told their wives, because they don't want to upset them yet.”

Rockhampton CFMEU district vice president, Glenn Power knew just as much as the workers in the early hours of yesterday prior to the announcement.

It's a point which suggests a potential breach of agreement between the mine and the unions.

It is understood unions should be consulted when major workplace changes are to occur.

Speaking to The Morning Bulletin just before the meeting, Mr Power said he too had no idea the exact nature of the announcement, and had only been informed of it through correspondence with members.

"It is disappointing, to tell you the truth, that these companies can do whatever they want, it seems, with no recourse or responsibilities,” Mr Power said.

Following the meeting Mr Power spoke to the Bulletin again, audibly shocked about the day's events.

He said the company's behaviour had been "bizarre” through the entire process.

"It is still unclear what the company intends to do, the correspondence that we have received hasn't been clear or in detail,” Mr Power said.

"Basically they are identifying parts of the operation where standing down will be necessary, and then individuals will be told of stand-downs that will commence in the next 48 hours.

"We have people just sitting in their room in the camp for 48 hours waiting for a text or an email detailing whether they are required to work or if they will be stood down.

"We have asked for a major meeting... it seems like they are accountable to no one.”

Speculation has also begun to arise surrounding the inundation incident itself.

While Caledon's statement identified the water source as "unknown”, information from workers suggest crews had been informed that the water had already been drained before the outpouring.

The sentiments were echoed by Mr Power yesterday, when he said the flow of water was a fault of management.

Questions were yesterday posed to Caledon regarding the futures of workers' jobs, union involvement and the inundation incident.

Due to time constraints a response is not expected until today.

Topics:  coal industry cook colliery job losses mine mining

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