BHP-Billiton faces international strike action
by Peter Mac The sacking of hundreds of striking Mozambican aluminium smelter workers by mining and resources giant BHP-Billiton has been condemned by trade unions from around the world meeting at the Sydney conference of the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF). As part of an international campaign of political and industrial action, Australian trade union leaders have vowed to take retaliatory strike action against the company's work sites, despite the risks of incurring savage financial penalties under the Howard Government's industrial relations legislation. The sackings occurred at the company's Mozal smelter at Moputo after workers took strike action recently. The company is said to have used police and guard dogs to forcibly remove workers from the smelter, and to have replaced them with non-union labour from South Africa. Most of the Mozambican workers were later reinstated, but 40 former shop stewards remain permanently barred from employment at the company's worksites. The Sydney meeting condemned the sackings, declaring: "The attacks by BHP Billiton on collective rights and their attempt to marginalise or eliminate trade union activity by aggressively promoting individual contracts is a breach of core labour standards and is rejected and opposed by the IMF". The company BHP Billiton was formed several months ago by the merging of the former Australian company BHP with the former South African mining company, Billiton. BHP had already established an international reputation as a ruthless exploiter of labour at its many worldwide worksites, and Billiton had a similar record. BHP Billiton is now the largest mining company, and one of the largest minerals processing firms, in the world. The proposed international trade union action against the company follows concerted moves by international labour organisations to take co-ordinated action, including "sympathy strikes", against multinational companies who resort to tactics such as the importation of strike-breaking labour from other countries. Any action taken within Australia would effectively challenge the Howard Government's draconian Industrial Relations legislation, which provides for savage penalties against "secondary boycotts", including sympathy strikes. In the wake of the Federal elections the Howard Government has highlighted industrial relations as one of the key areas for new initiatives, i.e. further legislation to suppress industrial action by workers, under the Coalition's perceived "mandate to govern". Last week, Doug Cameron, National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers' Union (AMWU), pledged to support the Mozambique workers. "We will take action in support of workers being treated inhumanely by BHP. If that means we break unfair Australian laws, then so be it", he declared.