Back to Basics
The Coal Industry: (A) A Review (B) The Saxonvale
(A) H C O Larratt; (B) A Kuru
Apart from agriculture, coal mining is our oldest
major Australian industry; its history is almost as
old as that of European settlement of this country.
Authenticity with respect to historical events throughout
this presentation relies upon the record of events
contained in the book by Mr M H Ellis entitled A Saga
of Coal, published in 1959, which was commissioned
by the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company to celebrate
its centenary in 1958.
In March 1791, a convict named William Bryant stole
a small fishing boat, and with his wife, Mary, two
children, and seven other convicts, escaped from Port
Jackson, hoping to reach the East Indies, three thousand
Four days later, the voyagers went ashore in the vicinity
of the Hunter River. At any rate, Bryant's ragged crew
may be regarded as the pioneers of the Newcastle coalfields.
Mary Bryant was the first white woman to set foot on
the soil of the district and to cook with Newcastle
In the early 1800s, Governor King had regarded the
Hunter River region as a suitably remote place of exile
for obstreperous Irish convicts and patriots, and decided
to establish a permanent settlement to hold desperate
convicts suffering secondary punishments.
The Governor resolved to ensure that potential rebellion
in the colony was averted by sending a number of the
most active of the insurgents to the 'coal works' by
the Hunter River.
The convict system was abolished in New South Wales
in 1840. The advent of free labour saw the beginning
of a struggle for higher wages and enforced amenities,
and this has continued ever since. The discovery
of gold in Australia in the early 1850s caused a short-lived
scarcity of labour and soon penniless gold miners from
western fields were returning to the coastal environment,
ready to take any job for any pay.
On 5 November---Guy Fawkes' Day---1858, resolutions
were carried to found the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company.
The decade that followed saw the development of competition
on the Australian coalfields, and also the beginnings
of the age of the trade unions.
During the 1850s the strike had become a potent weapon
on the British coalfields and in the Lancashire industrial
areas. A large proportion of the tradesmen and miners
entering Australia had had experience of these disturbances.
A number of these migrants were prominent in the movement
to form trade unions in Sydney and Newcastle in 1861-2.
It was unfortunate for the coal industry that when
inquiries for Australian coal were beginning to be
made by overseas purchasers, differences about working
conditions caused two disastrous stoppages in 1861
and 1862---the first serious ones the Australian industry
The industry continued to falter until 1870, and in
the six trying years of reconstruction from 1864 onwards
the average miner was glad to have a job at any price
and to work ten or twelve hours a day to keep it.
The miners, from 1870 onwards, were led by men with
skill in trade union organising techniques, acquired
In their homeland, who resurrected the union movement.
This unity of miners placed them in a much stronger
position than the owners, even before the proclamation
of the Trade Union Act in 1880, and was further strengthened
by a strike in 1873 which wielded them into a united
body, ready to accept union control and discipline.
On the other hand, as a consultant to the major employer
in the industry put it, 'the combination of owners,
if there be any, is a mere rope of sand'. That has
Continued growing industrial unrest by employees culminated
in a major coal strike in 1888. It was important in
history as the event that sealed off the old era of
seeking unity of policy between colliery proprietor
and union from the new one in which the employer was
treated as the workers' mortal enemy. This new policy
had the greater impact because it ran with the old-age
traditions of miners as a separate class.
In this new era the consumer achieved a new status
in the eyes of the union theorist. He had become like
the miner, it was said, the victim of the vices and
rapacity of the coal owner.
In 1890 the NSW Government appointed a Royal Commission
to inquire into the best method of preventing strikes.
Its members seemed to be quite oblivious to the failure
of the existing system of arbitration which it characterised
as 'uniformly successful' when applied, and recommended
no more than a variation to provide a board of conciliation
This tribunal, when it failed to conciliate as a whole,
would shed its non-permanent part like a lizard's tail,
leaving the permanent members to sit in awful state
and 'discharge the duty of adjudication and pronounce
An outcome of the 1890 Commission was the Arbitration
Act of 1892.
A further State Act of 1901 provided for a Conciliation
Committee or Tribunal with a Chairman and two other
members. Another strike in 1907 saw the creation of
Conciliation Boards to assist with the Resolution of
Dispute in line with the majority, but these were complicated
by the Federal Act of 1904---so now some unions had
a varied choice: either Federal law or State law, but
always, in the end, union law.
During World War I there was the Proclamation of another
law---the War Precautions Act and National Security
Regulations---designed to bypass the Federal Arbitration
Court and appoint a special Commissioner who granted
every claim of the Miners' Federation and gave the
green light to the Federation to enlarge its demands.
In 1929 a Royal Commission was appointed which later
held that the proprietors should have approached the
Arbitration Court; but it must have seemed to the harassed
companies, long before this juncture, that the whole
principle of balancing interests had broken down.
From the beginning, the union acted on the premise
that all tribunals were 'anti-working class', and the
servile instruments of the employers. Only when they
gave decisions in favour of the men were they prepared
to abide by their rulings.
Between 1930 and 1939 all attempts to stabilise coal
production and attain industrial peace were hampered
by propagandists who could see no remedy for the coal
industry's trouble, save nationalisation.
In 1939, when trade showed its first signs of real
improvement, there was an insistent clamour for increased
pay, shorter hours, two pound per week pensions for
miners reaching the retiring age of sixty, and underground
transport for miners.
All the matters of wages and conditions were sent
to Judge Drake-Brockman in the Federal Arbitration
Court. He reduced hours per week to 44, gave annual
leave of 10 days on full pay, with increases of penalty
rates for difficult places.
A few months later in 1939 came a claim for a 30-hour
week, which was rejected, though 40 hours with no Saturday
work was granted to those winning and handling coal.
As to the majority of the decisions by members of
Industrial Courts and Tribunals, which sympathised
with the employer, condemned the employees' actions
and invariably awarded the substantive portion of the
Union's claims Judge Drake-Brockman wrote,
'The success and prosperity of a particular colliery
are the concern of all employed in and about it. The
employees' earnings and security of employment are
directly involved. These things ought to be obvious,
but unfortunately they are often disregarded.'
Of the conditions of affairs in 1939, Mr Justice Drake-Brockman
reported that 'employees had usurped the functions
of management'. He declared that managers and superintendents
seem to lack the courage to impose discipline, and
so the 'last on, first off' rule had been established,
meaning that no matter what a reasonably long-employed
mine worker did, or how lazy or insubordinate or mischievous
he might be, he was firmly entrenched in his job. 'Nothing',
declared the Judge, 'short of the closing down of the
mine, death or compensable illness could prise him
out of it'.
'[He could] stay away from time to time as he feels
inclined, but when he returns to the mines his job
must be waiting for him. 'Silly' strikes and sectional
stoppages for insufficient reasons, or often for no
apparent reason at all, are all too common. These practices
are quite unjustified. They are harmful to the industry
and to all people associated with it'.
The state of the industry at the time was captioned
'The wagon of the coal industry was bolting rapidly
downhill, its drivers---governments, coal owners, and
unions---each trying to force the vehicle in a different
direction, each trying to wrest the reins from the
others, and each slashing about indiscriminately with
In January 1945 still another board to inquire into
the coal industry was appointed. Commissioner Davidson
issued his report in 1946. In outspoken words, he found
that 'the coal industry in its major fields is a tottering
industry, undisciplined, losing its production and
markets. . . a prey to evil and revolutionary influences,
inefficient, dangerously over-governed to the point
The Commissioner's report on mechanisation was forthright:
'Nothing more is needed than this brief outline to
establish that the coal industry is not only inefficient
but is afflicted with a form of creeping paralysis.
On all sides mechanization is admittedly indispensable.
Yet its introduction is attacked by arguments that
it will reduce employment, will render the miner's
work unsafe and will cost so much that the money will
not be forthcoming from the industry.'
The report recommended to the Governments concerned
that they 'constitute a Federal authority with powers
and duties covering almost every phase of coal mining
and disposal, usage and economy, including the level
of fair profit, and of safety measures and employment.
The Governments were advised to grant a bounty to mine
owners willing to come under the jurisdiction of the
The whole scheme, the Commissioner thought, should
be on a voluntary basis. The bounty was the governing
factor and the incentive to the coal owners to come
Immediately after the presentation of Commissioner
Davidson's report, the Commonwealth and NSW Governments
each passed an Act to replace the Coal Production (War-time)
These two new statutes were identical. It was agreed
by each Government that there should be no repeal or
amendment save by joint consent of the Governments
involved. Each measure was called the Coal Industry
Act 1946. They owed much of their contents to the findings
of Commissioner Davidson, but the principle of voluntary
association proposed by the Commissioner was not acceptable
to Labor Governments.
The objective of the 1946 legislation was to 'provide
means for securing and maintaining adequate supplies
of coal throughout Australia and for providing for
the regulation and improvement of the coal industry'
in New South Wales and 'for purposes connected therewith'.
These Acts established a Joint Coal Board to administer
the industry and a Coal Industry Tribunal with local
coal authorities to determine industrial regulation.
The Tribunal was to consist of only one man whose decision
would not be subject to appeal other than in the High
Court of Australia.
Part B. The Saxonvale Affair
The evolution, over the years, of attitudes and regulations
in our coal mining industry, as traced by Herb Larratt
and taken up by him later, presents us today with a
system which is most restricted by its cohesiveness
and (it would seem to some), impregnable to change
in the current political situation.
The net in which coal mining companies find themselves
is both strong and flexible. Its various components
the Government, unions, Joint Coal Board and the Coal
Industry Tribunal combine and complement each other
to dissipate effectively any efforts towards progressive
change that may threaten 'custom and practice', and
those so-called hard-won conditions squeezed from companies
by militant unions over the years. The stated reasons
for the continued existence of the Joint Coal Board
and the Coal Industry Tribunal are, in the main, as
they were in 1946, to ensure that coal is produced
in the State and 'in such quantities and with such
regularity as will meet the requirements', and also
'to promote the welfare of workers engaged in the coal
industry in New South Wales'. It is a great pity that,
in the execution of this task the short-term solution
is at the expense of a mining operation, or, indeed,
of the entire industry. The need to remain economically
viable to stay in business seems to have little or
no bearing on the decisions imposed.
At last year's Conference at Mooloolaba, Charles Copeman
gave a paper on the Robe River Affair. The success
story subsequent to that 'Affair' has been clearly
evidenced, and the action taken justified by the substantial
contribution which Robe River iron ore now makes to
the Peko Group and to the other shareholders. Our efforts
to acquire, last year, the ailing Saxonvale coal mine
in the Hunter Valley were described at the time by
a prominent unionist as 'Robe River all over again'.
Unfortunately, I cannot present the Saxonvale Affair
today as a story of success similar to Robe. Our 'Affair'
nevertheless did a lot to expose the nature of some
of the forces an employer in the coal industry has
to contend with in 1988. Our action perhaps also helped
to trigger this recognition, and also to promote recent
pressures by economically-squeezed employers for changes
to archaic customs and wasteful work practices. These
actions and pressures attracted aggressive resistance
by mining unions, and resulted in timid agreement with
the principle of change, but ended with support for
the status quo.
Saxonvale open-cut mine had been conceived by BHP
during the late 1970s as a three stage development
to ultimately produce some 7m tonnes of thermal coal
per year for the export market. The subsequent world
oversupply of coal and downward pressure on prices
caused mine development to be held at stage one, with
revenue apparently not covering the cash cost of production,
which commenced in 1981. The 'think big' approach to
the planning of the mine from more prosperous times
had allowed the establishment of operating methods
and labour conditions and practices difficult to support
from a smaller operation in leaner times. Consequently
BHP had advised their mine staff of their intention
to either sell the mine or, failing that, to make drastic
reductions to level of operations, and to the number
of people employed.
Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company, the Coal Division
of the Peko Group, holds an Authority to Prospect at
Bulga, a coal resource immediately to the north of
the Saxonvale mine. The company recognised cost savings
obtainable as the result of a different mining approach
possible on a combined Saxonvale-Bulga holding, and
improvements to the rate of return which could be achieved
by optimising Saxonvale's production as a component
of Newcastle Wallsend's successful coal-blending operations.
Significant cost savings were also seen to be available
by changing manning and work practices established
at the mine.
Our plans for the mine were based on an initial 'survival
period' of heavy losses for at least one year. During
this time changes to the coal washery would be made
as well as work carried out to allow mining to move
in 18 months into the financially more attractive Whybrow
seam operation in the combined Saxonvale-Bulga holding.
Capital expenditure of some $20m was considered necessary
during this development stage.
Employment, set at 236 for the 'survival' period,
would increase to 285 and ultimately reach 600 as the
full potential of the Saxonvale Bulga holding was developed
in about 5 years.
Agreement with BHP in regard to terms of the sale
was reached in January 1987, and support for the transfer
was sought and obtained from the NSW Government. It
was agreed that BHP would reduce the then manning of
about 320 to 236 nominated by Newcastle Wallsend by
the time the transfer took place, a reduction of 84
employees. BHP proposed to achieve the reduction by
natural attrition and by use of a voluntary retirement
package already established within the company, if
that were necessary.
Unions were advised of the proposed sale at a meeting
convened by the Joint Coal Board early in February.
As the sale could be seen as a rescue operation offering
to the majority of Saxonvale employees a more secure
future, it was anticipated that negotiations, in which
work practices were traded for additional jobs, would
follow. This was not to be the case.
Numerous necessary work practice changes were identified
and, in the period February to June 1987, a series
of meetings was held with the seven unions which had
members employed at the mine. Several meetings with
representatives of all unions were chaired by the Joint
Coal Board. These meetings had an attendance of 30
or more people.
It became clear that no meaningful agreements in the
way of achieving more cost-effective work practices
and manning could be reached. The unions insisted firstly
that waste and overmanning did not exist, and secondly,
that if we wished to negotiate changes they would discuss
some of the issues only after the transfer of the mine,
and of the employees, had taken place. This approach
was not acceptable to the company. As the agreed transfer
date approached, the company issued written offers
of employment to the then Saxonvale employees on the
basis that the employment would be in accordance with
the provisions of the relevant Award, 'applicable Orders
of the Coal Industry Tribunal and any specific agreements
made with the Newcastle Wallsend Coal Company Pty Ltd'.
Prospective employees were asked to signify acceptance
of the offer by returning a signed copy of the offer
letter to the company. Unions instructed their members
not to respond individually but accepted, or more correctly,
made a counter-offer collectively, on behalf of their
members, to the effect that 'the employment be in accordance
with current Award provisions and agreements'
(the emphasis is mine). In other words, all the
wasteful manning and work practices in place were to
be continued with the new employer. Further, on 1 June
the National Liaison Committee of the mining unions
advised that the unions would not respond to any approach
to review work practices other than through the coal
industry's employer organisation---the New South Wales
Contracts of sale of the mine were signed by the parties
on 17 June 1987 and submitted to the NSW Minister for
Mineral Resources for the necessary transfer of the
mining lease approval. It was proposed that the operational
transfer take place over the following weekend.
On Thursday, 18 June, the Joint Coal Board convened
a conference between the company and the unions and
then directed the Coal Industry Tribunal, to consider
and determine, 'in the public interest': '
the terms and conditions of employment of the mine
workers currently employed at the Saxonvale mine and
what will be the status of those mineworkers following
the transfer of ownership of the mine; and
2. The terms and conditions of employment which shall
apply to mineworkers employed or to be employed at
the said mine.'
On the following day the Minister for Mineral Resources
advised the Tribunal that he did not propose to approve
the transfer of the lease 'until I am in a position
to examine the relevance of the matter before the Tribunal
to the exercise of my functions under the Coal Mining
Act, particularly those functions that bear on the
employment of specified numbers of persons in mining
lease areas. Equally, I would not wish to affect the
Tribunal's deliberations by a premature consideration
of the application.'
The Coal Industry Tribunal on 19 June heard the matter
and in an interim decision of the same day stated that
he had given no consideration to the 'second matter,
or the second part of the first matter' of the Board's
referral, but found 'in answer to the first part of
the question put by the Joint Coal Board that the mineworkers
in receipt of NWCC offer at Saxonvale are currently
employees of BHP and I so determine.' This was the
first step by the Tribunal in dodging the issue.
It was clear that the actions of the Joint Coal Board
and the Minister followed the wishes and pressure from
the unions. The unions, as one organiser was quoted
in the press, had asked the State Government not to
approve the transfer of the mine's lease without the
company having agreed to take over all existing conditions
and work practices and also sought the Joint Coal Board
to issue orders declaring the dispute an industrial
matter to be dealt with by the Coal Industry Tribunal
'in the public interest'. Newcastle Wallsend thus found
itself a party to an industrial dispute of 'public
interest', this without ownership of the mine and involving
another company's employees. The transfer of the mine
proposed for the 20 June could not proceed.
An offer of employment on the basis of the law of
the land was seen as 'rogue attitude' by my company,
which 'may have a harmful effect on the State's well
being'. On the following Tuesday, 23 June, the Coal
Industry Tribunal ordered that for a period of three
months, or until further order of the Tribunal, the
terms and conditions of employment at Saxonvale shall
be 'the same in every aspect, except total numbers
employed, as those obtaining under the management of
BHP as on the 15 June'. Our submissions in writing
made to the Tribunal and subsequently in evidence during
hearings in an application for rescission of the order
that a new employer-employee relationship could not
be based, even on a short-term basis, on vague and
undefined terms as ordered, that is the same as BHP's
on 15 June, fell on deaf ears---the order, to the considerable
satisfaction of the union hierarchy, remained in place.
I should note here that in submissions to the Tribunal,
the Joint Coal Board and the NSW Government supported
the stand of the unions: the existing conditions, warts
and all, were not to be challenged or disturbed---all
this in the interest of 'responsible' industrial relations.
Whilst the hearings in front of the Tribunal were
effectively perpetuating the very conditions which
made it impossible for the then owner of Saxonvale
to continue, the Minister for Mineral Resources set
about making his contribution to the cause. We were
advised that a condition to the transfer of the lease
would be that a minimum of 236 people were to be employed
on the mine more than double the minimum of 104 required
of BHP as a condition of their lease.
We were thus faced with having to accept and condone
all the wasteful work practices in place at the mine,
as well as be tied, as a minimum, and regardless of
over-award working conditions forced upon us, to the
number of employees we had volunteered to employ, or
the lease would not be transferred to us. At the same
time, we were aware that BHP intended, if the sale
of the mine did not proceed, to reduce operations to
about 120 employees for economic reasons. We found
that the unions, the Government, the Joint Coal Board
and the Coal Industry Tribunal had effectively and
neatly (the last two using powers invested in them
by the Coal Industry Act of 1946, aided and abetted
by industrial threats) prepared conditions which we
found irresponsible, and impossible to accept.
We did not.
Some of you may recall our subsequent newspaper advertisements
'No, Minister, and Yes, Minister'---public protestations
which, because of the proximity of the 11 July Federal
election, required us subsequently to explain and account
for our 'election expenditure'.
The Saxonvale Affair, or 'Robe River all over again',
did not have a happy ending. We and BHP had expended
considerable effort and incurred substantial costs
in arriving at the stage when contracts had been exchanged
and the transfer of the mine was imminent. Subsequent
to the frustration of the sale by those charged with
the responsibility for the coal mining industry and
for those employed within it, over 100 more jobs were
lost as BHP reduced the operation to 130 employees.
The positive way forward, with a substantial future
increase in employment offered to Saxonvale and its
employees by the company, was destroyed by those who
place industrial expediency before security. The establishment
of practices and systems which allegedly have been
evolved to protect employment in the mining industry
have become the tools of destruction of that same employment.
In conclusion, I would like to illustrate some of
the attitudes by what was said at the time. Mick Watson,
Miners Federation organiser in the Common Cause,
the journal of the Federation, wrote this on 18 March
'If Peko wants to expand its operations in the coal
industry it should be bound to honour the present practices
and conditions that exist in our industry. Nobody should
be under any illusions, if Peko breaks through at Saxonvale
it will spill over to other operations throughout the
industry. If the New Right wants to pull us on then
we will all have to stand united and beat off that
John Maitland, General President of the Miners' Federation,
was quoted by the 'Newcastle Morning Herald', (10 June
1987) as saying:
'On the Saxonvale mine, the governments were being
asked to take action against Peko-Wallsend if it refused
to employ the mine's workers under existing conditions';
and in the 'Sunday Telegraph' on 28 June 1987:
The Minister for Mineral Resources, Mr Ken Gabb, included
the following in his press release of 2 July 1987
'Peko-Wallsend deliberately and provocatively inflamed
the situation by demanding that mineworkers sign open-ended
letters of employment knowing this to be contrary to
accepted industry practices . . .
'Peko-Wallsend have deliberately tried to obscure
the issue by talking about work practices in conjunction
with the granting of the lease . . .
'My main concern is for the effective future working
of the mine and given the attitude of Peko-Wallsend,
I have no option but to decline the transfer.
'By their attitude Peko-Wallsend have demonstrated
that the future harmony which would allow the effective
operation of the mine would be placed in jeopardy.
'Given the current climate in the industry, the rogue
attitude adopted by Peko-Wallsend may have a harmful
effect on the State's well-being.
'Peko-Wallsend have demonstrated that they are isolated
in their attitude towards the Saxonvale Mine.
'It would appear that they can seek no comfort from
their colleagues in the industry and from the Opposition.
In fact the Opposition has been deathly silent on the
'This is probably explained by their embarrassment
at the Federal Opposition's call for the abolition
of the Joint Coal Board and the Coal Industry Tribunal.
''In the current climate, it is highly irresponsible
to suggest the abolition of the Joint Coal Board, given
its specific and specialised abilities regarding the
marketing of coal and coal technology to the world
. . .
'Also the Coal Industry Tribunal during the past week
has demonstrated the responsible attitude and knowledgeable
role in the New South Wales coal industry.'
The following week's headlines wrote the epilogue:
'BHP to cut 136 jobs at Saxonvale';
'Saxonvale saga is a lesson to remember', and
'Miners left with only the dole and bitterness'.
Part A. A Review (contd)
There are those among us who may complain about the
determinations of the Federal and various State Commissions
of conciliation and arbitration and who may not be
familiar with the workings and determinations of the
Coal Industry Tribunal.
The Coal Industry Tribunal, when set up in 1946, was
developed for a domestically-oriented industry in New
South Wales, with its sole obligation to secure and
maintain adequate supplies of coal. At that time, 90
per cent of the coal was produced from underground
mines with minimum quantities exported.
The coal industry is now dominantly an export industry,
which is as strong in Queensland as in New South Wales,
and provides a greater contribution to Australia's
export earnings than any other industry. The tonnage
of coal mined by open-cut methods has increased, whilst
the output of underground mines has remained, over
the last few years, relatively constant. In fact, the
majority of coal is produced from workings that can
be described as somewhere between a quarry and a civil
The Tribunal, as a one-man ruler of the coal industry,
has placed it in economic chaos.
The Tribunal is impotent to resist union pressure
for increased wages and improved conditions, regardless
of miners' wages, conditions and benefits already being
well in excess of State and Federal standards (more
than double the average wage for all males in industry).
Miners' wages are $800 per week in New South Wales---a 35-hour week was granted in 1970. Accident Pay
may extend to 39 weeks, including bonus, compared to
26 weeks at ordinary earnings in industry generally.
The Tribunal is incompetent in its determinations,
and results in the continuing high level of cost, and
the severe incidence of lost time due to industrial
disputes. In the 1986 Industry Productivity Decision,
the Tribunal stated:
'As I understand the statutory duties imposed on me
by the Coal Industry Acts I do not have the liberty
to adopt a course which I believe would result in further
industrial instability and loss of production.'
Such statements completely ignore economic arguments
about market, price, exchange rate and capacity to
pay. They are concerned narrowly with the statutory
requirements placed upon the Tribunal to ensure production
The Tribunal ignored the submissions to the 1986 Industry
Productivity proceedings of the Employers' Associations
and Newcastle Wallsend, and sought to place credence
only upon selected extracts of the submissions of the
interveners on behalf of the ACTU, the Federal Minister
and the Joint Coal Board, to the detriment of the coal
industry employers and employees, as the number of
retrenchments and mine closures have subsequently clearly
The policy of appeasement, allegedly inherent in the
terms of reference of the Tribunal, is the main cause
of industrial action in the coal industry today. The
industry has the compulsion of a Board and a Tribunal
but not the bounties denied to it by the Labor Ministries,
a circumstance of double jeopardy.
The coal industry exports almost 100 million tonnes
annually. This represents more than two-thirds of total
production. Export receipts are well in excess of $5
The NSW coal mining industry has now, as an industry,
experienced seven years of losses. Over the last three
years the industry lost a total of $200m.
The industry is, in fact, caught in a squeeze action
between rising costs and falling prices. Appeasement
by expediency and bribery has not succeeded throughout
history. It encourages a blackmailer in his ransom
and ensures his claims for further appeasement at frequent
intervals. The visible policy of 'Peace at any price'
in the coal industry should never have to be tolerated,
and the first step towards remedying this situation
is to repeal the Coal Industry Acts 1946.
The disputation between employer and employees continues
unabated despite the Coal Industry Tribunal, notwithstanding
the plight of the industry as the following example
at one of our Company's collieries shows:
From October 1985, the manning level on a continuous
miner had been discussed with employees for a year
prior to the machine being commissioned. It only went
into operation when our company agreed to 7 men/shift
for a trial period. This trial period remained for
14 months and a 6 men/shift trial period then commenced---and is continuing at the present time---but not without
strikes, go slows, appearances before the Tribunal,
This type of machine at other collieries is manned
with 6 men/shift.
Therefore a period of over two years has already elapsed
in pursuance of the current industrial system, furthering
the creation of waste, cost and loss---all such aspects
detrimental to the best interests of the industry.
Late last year our company sought to stagger crib
break times to maintain production at such times during
the shift and to eliminate the penalty payment for
the taking of late cribs. Despite numerous conferences
and hearings before the Tribunal, and the Local Coal
Authority, involving some 160 man days of time, a four-day
strike and a decision partly in the company's favour,
the employees have continued to frustrate the staggering
of crib times.
Any relief to an employer in this industry is just
not available unless the employer compromises sufficiently
so that the Tribunal or the Authority may appear to
function in its role.
The determinations of the Coal Industry Tribunal have:
- not been successful in reducing the incidence and
severity of industrial disruption;
- granted wage rates, benefits and conditions, improvements
superior to and inconsistent with Federal and State
- effectively enshrined work practices, restrictions
and rorts on the basis that 'custom and practice prevails'.
In this State, a colliery employer is hamstrung, even
when requiring to close a mine, which requires approval
from the Joint Coal Board. Our company made such an
application in November last year to the Joint Coal
Board, and a decision is still awaited. Although several
conferences and investigations have taken place there
is still no decision---another example of paralysis
by analysis. The Joint Coal Board initially sought
to make a contribution to the industry with the introduction
of mechanisation, but had divested itself of the task
in the 1950s when the industry changed from manual
to mechanised operation.
The 'Back to Basics' solution for the future long-term
interests of all concerned in the coal industry is
to repeal the 1946 Coal Industry Acts, thereby abolishing
the Joint Coal Board and the Coal Industry Tribunal.
The question of industrial regulation would then be
either under the Federal or State jurisdiction, as
is already applicable to every other major private
enterprise activity throughout Australia.