June 7, 2013 / 9:41 AM / 4 years ago

Australian coal port workers to hold two-day strike

PERTH, June 7 (Reuters) - Workers at Australia’s Newcastle port, the world’s largest thermal coal export facility, plan to stop work for 16 hours this weekend in a continued protest of changes proposed to their employment contract that they fear will erode their rights.

About 220 union workers will participate in two eight-hour strikes on Friday and Saturday.

Union workers have staged several strikes over the last few weeks, with little impact to Australia’s thermal coal exports. Thermal coal exports from Newcastle rose 5.8 percent in the week to June 3.

Australia’s Newcastle daily spot index closed at $86.68 per tonne on Thursday, down from $87.82 per tonne a week earlier, data from online trading platform globalCOAL showed.

Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS), which operates the Newcastle port facility, held negotiations this past week and expects to hold further negotiations in the coming week.

“The main issue is the dispute resolution procedure,” said Daniel Wallace, a New South Wales state organizer for the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. But there were a number of other issues still in dispute, including the use of contract employees, he said.

The union wants to keep the current dispute procedure which allows disagreements to be escalated into arbitration. PWCS would like company managers to make the final decisions on disputes rather than have them escalated to arbitration, according to the union.

“We’re making progress (but) it’s not as fast as we’d like,” a PWCS spokesman said.

PWCS has about 450 permanent employees, about half of which are union members, and an additional 200 contract workers.

The Newcastle coal port will export around 110 million tonnes of coal this year and has a capacity of around 145 million tonnes of coal a year.

Port Waratah is partially owned by Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied Industries.

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