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Workers escalate strike action at Australian port's PWCS coal terminals

10 May 2013 17:35:40 | csd

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Unions have ramped up their dispute with Australia's Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) by calling a four-hour strike on Wednesday at the company's two coal terminals in the port of Newcastle as a response to "stonewalling" by the company.

A statement from one of the unions on Friday said their original plan, to begin the action with an overtime ban and shift-change restrictions on Sunday, has been abandoned because, at a meeting on Tuesday, PWCS "stonewalled and refused to make any changes in their anti-union proposals".

Instead, members of the unions involved in the dispute will stop work from 10:00-14:00 Sydney time on Wednesday, the Maritime Union of Australia said.

Generally, market reaction to the dispute has been measured, with a small increase in physical prices since the end of last week. But traders said t buying on both the FOB Newcastle physical and swaps markets has increased this week, (see physical comment).

It is unclear at this stage how much the loading of coal on to ships will be affected by the stoppage. PWCS has previously said it will bring in non-skilled workers to fill gaps left by striking employees.

The strike is a protected action. The ballots from workers posted on Australia's Fair Work Commission's website showed that the PWCS workers would back increasing the length of their stoppages if the dispute continues.

The proposed action does not affect the port's third terminal, owned by Newcastle Coal Infrastructure Group.

The Transport Workers Union, the Electrical Trade Union and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union are the other bodies involved in the strike. All four unions are represented in a single bargaining unit.

PWCS had not responded to an ICIS request for comment by the time of publication. Fionn O'Raghallaigh

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