BHP provokes mine dispute
by Peter Mac Industrial giant BHP's move to terminate agreements at three of its biggest collieries threatens to once again plunge the mining industry into a crippling dispute. The company's coal mines at Crinum, Saraji and Gregory in Queensland, and its Hay Point Coal terminal, are already locked in dispute over new enterprise agreements, and the company has recently applied to terminate the current agreements with unions at its Appin, Tower and Cordeaux mines. Unless a new agreement is reached — and this will almost certainly require industrial action by mineworkers to get the company to negotiate — the effect of the terminations will be to force the workers onto the "safety net" coal-mining award. As BHP knows full well, the Industrial Relations Commission has subjected this award to a wage freeze which, in some areas of the industry, will last for ten years. The mineworkers' union, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has condemned the latest moves by BHP. The General President of the CFMEU's Mining and Energy Division, Tony Maher, described the move as contemptible, and declared that, "This latest BHP application to terminate the Certified Agreements is an attempt to intimidate workers rather than negotiating with the union." The Saraji mineworkers recently staged a two-day strike in support of demands for a new award. Agreements at BHP's Norwich Park and Peak Downs open-cut mines in central Queensland are due to expire shortly. The company has also looked at commissioning the infamous security firm FBIS (used in the Patrick/MUA dispute) to provide security guards to enforce a lockout. It has given no indication that it intends to continue the current agreements at these workplaces and is still pursuing attempts to scrap health and safety standards, which would compel injured employees to return to work before they had recovered from their injuries. Mr Maher commented that: "BHP is setting the course for all-out industrial war. All our members want is a fair deal in new two-year agreements. BHP has lavishly rewarded its top executives for record performances. Now what about the workers, who after all are the people who produce the wealth?"