April 20, 2005
National miners strike for fair-share pay rise
The first national coal miners’ strike in more than a decade will start tomorrow as miners express their anger at their employers’ refusal to negotiate a fair pay rise.
Some 700 workers from mines in the North and South Islands will start walking off the job tomorrow morning for 48 hours.
Employers this week increased their pay offer from nil to 2.8 per cent in the face of limited industrial action at the Huntly East and Rotowaro mines, but are still a long way short of the six per cent being claimed by the workers.
EPMU national secretary Andrew Little said that there was no excuse for the employers’ greed.
“Coal is reaching record export prices and these companies are doing well,” he said.
“The workers have earned a fair share of the wealth. An offer of a 2.8 per cent pay rise when inflation is expected to hit three per cent, and other workers are winning five per cent, is just not in the game.”
The advocate leading the union’s negotiating team,
Ray Urquhart, said that the miners were getting extremely
frustrated by their employers’ intransigence.
“The workers are determined,” he said. “It’s been some years – more than a decade, in fact – since we’ve had a national stoppage in this industry, but they are determined to get a fair pay rise and a national coalminers’ agreement.”
Mr Urquhart said that the miners were seeking pay parity between the mines as part of a national coal agreement. Generally, underground miners in the North Island earned more than did those in the South Island, while South Island opencast miners were better paid than were their North Island counterparts.
“Pay and conditions at some mines were hit hard during the Employment Contracts Act years of the 1990s,” Mr Urquhart said.
“The workers aren’t looking to make up the different in one go, but want a commitment to a process that will lead to pay parity.”
The mines affected by the strike will be Huntly East underground and Rotowaro opencast at Huntly, Stockton opencast at Westport, Spring Creek underground at Greymouth and workers employed by Ohai Mining Ltd at the Ohai opencast in Southland. Workers at Terrace mine at Reefton, and those employed by Solid Energy at Ohai, cannot legally take industrial action until their collective agreement expires later this year.
Some 240 miners at Huntly East and Rotowaro have been taking limited action this week, refusing to do all work except to honour an agreement to supply 15,000 tonnes of coal to the Glenbrook steel mill before any strike started. Mr Urquhart said that that work should finish tomorrow.
The EPMU is leading the Fair Share – Five in ’05 campaign for a minimum five per cent pay rise for all workers.