What is the future of Hunter mining and its 13,000 direct employees?

What is the future of Hunter mining and its 13,000 direct employee?

Coal has its big moments. One was in a park at Branxton on Thursday October 6, 1988. I stood watching from afar, astonished, and cold, as a chilly afternoon wind carried dark clouds across the coal miners' union meeting. Speaker after speaker stood on the tray of a truck and said their piece. Loud speakers blasted obscenity and anger in a three-hour battle over work rosters. The final vote was close, the motion to accept a coal industry tribunal ruling that would permit companies to roster workers across all seven days of the week rejected by 1366 to 1230.

The geography of the Branxton meeting was intriguing. Miners from the old coalfields towns were opposed to the new rosters. The rosters threatened the rhythm of their lives. The idea of a weekend would be lost, sporting clubs ruined, family life disrupted, the working conditions won over decades of struggle turned asunder. But miners from the upper Hunter were supportive of the move. Wages would be higher while new flexible working hours suited the many farmers among them who needed off-farm income to survive, and the wannabe hobby farmers happy to pour good wages into big sheds, quad bikes and expensive SUVs. The valley was divided, longstanding mining communities versus rural newcomers.

The next few years are going to be tough ones as workers seek to fend off increasingly powerful, increasingly monopolised coal employers.

hard road ahead: To protect profits when coal prices are down, mining companies generally seek lower labour costs and higher productivity. Picture: Marina Neil
Hard road ahead: To protect profits when coal prices are down, mining companies generally seek lower labour costs and higher productivity. Picture: Marina Neil

Read the full article by Professor Phillip O'Neill in the Newcastle Herald 02 March, 2020