The Guardian October 11, 2000


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."

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