Tassie coal miners fight to protect conditions


Cornwall Colliery is a small coal mine with a long history. Mining at the site began in 1886 and while there were once several coal mines across the state, Cornwall is the last remaining underground coal mine in Tasmania.

Cornwall is a small operation with about 70 coal miners producing about 350,000 tonnes a year, which is mostly sold to parent company Cement Australia’s Railton plant, fuelling the furnace that heats the limestone for cement production.

Our members at Cornwall have just begun negotiating a new Enterprise Agreement for the site, as management attempts to overturn long-term roster arrangements that would extend their fixed roster and reduce overtime. At the same time workers are pushing for a pay increase and fair bonus scheme closer to those in place at mainland coal mines.

Tasmanian District President Ricky Gale, who has worked underground at Cornwall for 14 years, said management is using the impending end of life of the mine as an excuse to try and cut workers’ pay and conditions – including cutting back paid breaks and union meetings.

Substantial investment will be needed to establish a replacement mine and Cement Australia is threatening workers that their pay claim will put that investment at risk. But as Ricky points out, the cost of establishing a new mine will dwarf the relatively modest cost of an annual pay rise for the small workforce.

While the Cornwall miners earn a decent hourly rate, their bonus scheme is well behind mainland coal mines and they work in difficult conditions underground.

“We’ve got some of the worst conditions for underground coal mining, the strata is very fragile and we’ve had several roof falls,” said Ricky.

Cuts in recent years have made it harder to coal production consistent.

“They try to cut costs all the time,” says Ricky. “They got rid of the two shifts and we are now mining a single section. Downsizing the workforce and getting rid of some of the machinery restricts us from being able to produce more coal and relies on the machinery working all the time – which it doesn’t. We are in a poor coal seam at the moment. They are expecting us to get the coal out, but if the coal is not there you can’t work to get it out.”

EA negotiations for the Cornwall miners have just got underway, we wish them all the best!


Back to issue: September 2021