PERTH, July 12 (Reuters) - Workers at Australia’s Newcastle port, the world’s largest thermal coal export facility, plan to hold another round of rolling strikes next week in a continuing standoff around proposed changes to their employment contract.
Workers have been striking intermittently since May, but the labour actions have hit during a time of falling demand for coal and have not had much of an impact on prices, which have tumbled more than 10 percent since the stoppages began.
The globalCOAL weekly index closed at $77.04 per tonne last Friday, the lowest reading for the benchmark since November 2009.
“If there’s any deterioration in (exports) it’s basically due to (lower) demand,” Port Waratah spokesman Paul Chamberlin said, acknowledging that it is likely to fall short of its 110 million tonne target for exports in 2013.
Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS), which operates the Newcastle port facility, denied that the strikes have cut export volumes, although said they have slowed loading at one terminal.
About 220 union workers began rolling strikes ranging from four to eight hours long on Thursday and will continue to hold stoppages through next Thursday.
The union will meet again with PWCS next Tuesday to discuss the disagreement over dispute procedures, which the port operator is seeking to change.
Port Waratah is partially owned by Rio Tinto subsidiary Coal & Allied Industries.