Mineworkers to BHP: "We won't cop it"
by Marcus Browning BHP coalminers began strike action this week after continuous stalling tactics by the company in negotiations for an enterprise agreement. In fact, mineworkers are currently under a double-barrelled attack at coal mining operations in Queensland and NSW from transnational corporations BHP and Exxon. Both corporations are using the tactics which have become almost standard mining company anti-union practice, such as the lock-out and the unacceptable pay and conditions ultimatum. The workers, members of the Mining and Energy Division of the CFMEU, have been trying to negotiate a new agreement at 13 BHP coal operations (eight in Queensland, five in NSW). Around 500 workers from the Gregory and Crinum mines and the Hay Point bulk loading facility in Queensland began a five-day strike on Monday this week, and around 300 workers from the Tower, Appin and Cordeaux mines in NSW will do the same beginning next Monday. "Rather than negotiate in good faith, BHP has opted to pour oil on troubled waters by moving to terminate agreements at the Hay Point Terminal and its Crinum mine in central Queensland", said the union's General President, Tony Maher. "The Crinum workers have been attempting to negotiate a new agreement for 14 months now. BHP not only refuses to negotiate a new deal with them; the company wants to strip back existing wages and conditions at the mine." In addition to a miserable wage offer, BHP's wants the workers to compromise on safety standards. The workers are seeking a 15 percent wage rise over the next two years and security of employment provisions in the new agreement. BHP came back with a ten percent wage offer to be paid over three years with strings attached, including compulsory 12-hour shifts and the linking of any further increases to a reduction in Lost Time Injuries (LTI) at their operations. Howie Fisher, the union's NSW South Western President, says the push to cut LTI means only one thing — "BHP wants our members in the coal industry to sell out their health and safety standards. "Coal mining is one of the world's most hazardous industries and BHP wants injured employees to remain at work in order to reduce their insurance premium payments so that the company's bottom line shows a better result. "It is a disgrace and we won't cop it." Over the past two years BHP made a $1.8 billion profit in coal on the back of a 54 percent increase in productivity by workers and a 38 percent reduction in the workforce. Meanwhile, Exxon has announced it will this week start locking out the workers at its Ulan open cut coal mine in NSW after stonewalling any progress on a new agreement for more than five months. The union and workers have bitterly condemned the move. "Of course, Exxon is looking to sell Ulan and we have no doubt that its determination to stymie a settlement is part of its plan to make the sale of the mine more attractive to potential buyers", said Howie Fisher. The lock-out will hit 87 CFMEU members, people who live locally in a region hit hard by unemployment: it will affect not only the mineworkers and their families, but the whole community. "But then, Exxon has never shown any regard for communities affected by its operations", noted Mr Fisher, "and they stand condemned throughout the world for this."