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Strike at Australia’s PWCS coal terminals ‘imminent’

07 May 2013 13:11:28 | csd

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Australian unions representing workers at the two Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) terminals in the port of Newcastle have served notice strike action is imminent, according to the Maritime Union of Australia on Monday.

Results of protected action ballots posted on the website of Australia's Fair Work Commission on 2 May showed PWCS employees from four unions backed the picket.

It is unclear exactly when the strike will start. Prices at the free-on-board (FOB) Newcastle swaps market rose slightly on Friday, which sources linked to the potential strike action. On the physical FOB Newcastle market, June-loading cargoes are selling above August-loading ones, which was linked to potential supply tightness in the short term.

The Maritime Union of Australia said the strike was because of anti-union proposals "seeking to undermine the safety and health of workers, tear up long-standing settlement procedure of contract issues, and radically change the scope of matters that can be arbitrated".

At this stage, it appears the action by workers at the Carrington and Kooragang terminals will focus on bans on overtime and restrictions on shift changes. The workers also backed an unlimited number of stoppages for differing amounts of time, from four hours up to 168 hours.

According to the Maritime Union of Australia statement, PWCS, which is majority-owned by mining giant Rio Tinto, has previously said it will train non-skilled employees to fill the voids from the potential actions by unionised employees.

The proposed action does not affect the third Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group (NCIG)-owned terminal at the port of Newcastle.

The Transport Workers Union, the Electrical Trade Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union are the other bodies involved in the strike.

PWCS was unavailable for comment. Last week, PWCS accepted Hunter Valley coal producers' voluntary reduction of contract tonnages shipped through its two terminals (see CSD 2 May 2013). The move casts doubt on the need for a new, fourth terminal at the port.

Newcastle stocks

Coal stocks at the PWCS terminal increased by 18% in the week ending 5 May to 1.45m tonnes, according to the Hunter Valley Coal Chain Coordinator's (HVCCC) weekly report.

Coal shipped from the three terminals at the port of Newcastle was down by a marginal 0.75% week on week, according Newcastle Port Cooperation data out Monday.

HVCCC said the PWCS terminals Carrington and Kooragang accounted for about 1.9m tonnes of the export figure. This means the third NCIG terminal shipped about 1m tonnes last week. Fionn O'Raghallaigh

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