DELIVERY of millions of dollars’ worth of coal from the North West came to a halt yesterday when coal train drivers and rail workers walked off the job.
And there will be no deliveries today and most of tomorrow as the 48-hour strike prevents coal reaching the port of Newcastle.
The striking Pacific National employees stopped work at noon and rallied at Port Waratah in Newcastle, about 300km from where the coal originates around Gunnedah and Narrabri.
Pacific National is considered to be one of the nation’s biggest coal haulers and freights for regional miner Whitehaven Coal.
Its 800 or so striking workers are members of the Rail, Train and Bus Union (RTBU), which has been in negotiations with the company to increase working members’ wages for the past year.
Negotiations broke down last week when Pacific National walked out of discussions and the union waged 24-hour industrial action before extending the strike to 48 hours.
On Thursday , Pacific National and the RTBU again failed to reach a new enterprise agreement for the workers.
The weekend-long strike is now expected to threaten the delivery of 600,000 tonnes of coal, worth more than $55 million.
About 40 idle trains blocking lines could also disrupt up to 30 per cent of coal not carried by the hauler.
Yesterday’s strike came despite warnings from Whitehaven Coal, just days before, that it would take action through the Fair Work Commission.
A Whitehaven spokes- person reiterated that it was not appropriate to comment any further at the moment.
“As we have said, Whitehaven is considering the impacts on its businesses and reserves all its rights,” the spokesperson said.
“It is not appropriate to go into the detail of any application to the Fair Work Commission unless, or until, the application is made.”
Whitehaven managing director Tony Haggarty had said the strike action could cause significant harm to the company.
It’s now the second time in two months that Whitehaven’s rail shipments have been disrupted, following Nov- ember’s train derailment that blocked the North West line for 22 days.
RTBU representatives had said the stoppage was about their right to be represented and collectively bargain through their union.
RTBU secretary Bob Nanva said, through the course of the dispute, Pacific National offered inducements to employees who didn’t take part in industrial action.
“And threatened a lower pay offer for those who do,” Mr Nanva said.
Throughout yesterday’s strike, the union provided updates through its Twitter account, ending tweets with “FairGo4PN workers”.
The RTBU reported the “big coal boys” Whitehaven and Xstrata trying to stop members and their right to strike.