The Guardian November 1, 2000


Coal confrontation
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?"

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