Workers at the Oaky Creek coal mine in Queensland are the latest to face termination of their enterprise agreement. The 175 workers have been locked out for over 220 days, after striking when enterprise bargaining stalled. This makes it one of the longest lockouts in Australian history—something bosses can do totally legally through enterprise bargaining under the Fair Work Act.

Glencore rejected the workers’ initial proposal to roll over their previous agreement, which would have left workers with no pay rise over the next two years. They offered to accept a real pay cut if it meant retaining job security measures.

But management wants to undermine job security through the increased use of contract workers.

“It’s happening at every other pit in the Bowen Basin. Everyone’s trying to use contractors because it’s easy to supplement and get rid of when they don’t need them anymore,” Brian Lederhose, one of the workers involved, told the ABC. Sid Hurst, working in a nearby mine, commented that management’s use of contractors “is killing this town”.

Glencore has accepted similar job security measures at its Bulga and Ravensworth mines, where workers have won guarantees to convert a number of contract workers to permanent positions, increased training opportunities and improved redundancy packages. Additionally, they secured a job security clause guaranteeing that in the case of job losses, casual and contract workers will lose their jobs before voluntary redundancies and redeployment are considered for permanent workers.

In late January the workers voted down a third enterprise bargaining offer from Glencore—against the recommendation of their union officials.

In response, Glencore applied on 29 January to the Fair Work Commission to have the old enterprise bargaining agreement terminated. This tactic is becoming increasingly frequent. Murdoch University’s agreement was terminated last September, while management at Port Kembla Coal Terminal applied to terminate their agreement in January this year.

The workers have maintained a picket at one entrance to the mine, although operations continue with contract workers. Last October the Fair Work Commission savaged Glencore over its extreme surveillance of workers participating in the picket. Workers reported that private security had been monitoring them in town and while at their own homes.

The workers have vowed to remain “one day longer, one day stronger” than Glencore. They desperately need solidarity and support to win.

By Daniel Cheers

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