The Guardian March 3, 1999


The "Big Australian" turns ugly again

The newly appointed Chief executive Officer of BHP, Paul Anderson, is 
continuing the company's slash and burn closure of unprofitable enterprises 
and sacking more workers. The most recent is the closure of the Beenup 
mineral sands titanium processing plant in WA and the proposed closure of 
BHP's trans-Tasman shipping service.

The incompetence and irresponsibility of the BHP management is revealed in 
the fact that the Beenup operation which only started two years ago, has 
been plagued by technical and environmental problems which should have been 
known before the project started up. Beenup is located on the far south-
western tip of WA, about 300km south of Perth.

According to media reports the WA Government paid out millions to provide 
infrastructure for the project  $12 million for a 90 km power line and 
$43.3 million towards construction of a heavy duty road. All this has been 
wasted.

A seepage of sulphuric acid into the nearby river systems could arise from 
the mine's tailings dam causing a catastrophic environmental problem.

The tailings slurry produces sulphuric acid when exposed to air. At present 
the slurry is covered by water. BHP was committed to prepare an 
environmental plan for the rehabilitation of the area before the mine 
started operation but this was not done.

About 120 mine workers have lost their jobs virtually overnight although 
the operation was touted to have a life of 20 years. On this promise, 
workers bought houses and now find themselves with large mortgages, no 
wages and little else to do but to get out of this isolated location.

Workers signed a non-union enterprise agreement but being non-union did 
save them from the disaster of dismissal. It appears that the workers now 
depend on the "goodwill" of BHP management for any severance pay and other 
financial support such as help in finding other jobs, transport to other 
locations, help in clearing mortgages, etc.

Following the dismal profit performance of the "Big Australian" a new CEO 
was appointed a few months ago. A recent meeting of BHP shareholders voted 
him "as many as one million rights over BHP shares and one million 
options". No cost-cutting there!

But a new cost-cutting program has been implemented and more sackings are 
certain in Australia and in the many other countries where BHP has its 
international operations.

Newcastle steelworks is already in the process of closing.

BHP is suffering from the world-wide slump in the price of resource 
commodities  coal, oil, iron ore, lead, tin, zinc, etc  which reflects 
the deep economic crisis of capitalism.

In an attempt to maintain its profit levels for the benefit of 
shareholders. BHP will intensify its attacks on workers' conditions, wages 
and jobs.

CPA General Secretary Peter Symon, speaking from Perth, said that "the 
sacking of all the Beenup workers is yet another example, if any were 
needed, to show the callous face of the big corporations who do not care a 
jot for the job security and prosperity of workers and their families.

"It is not only the sacked workers who will suffer but also the local small 
businesses which have services the needs of the community largely dependent 
on the mine.

"The huge wealth that has been ripped out of the earth by this 
transnational private company should become the property of the people of 
Australia and benefit the people instead of the big investment institutions 
and banks."

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