The Guardian August 13, 2003


BHP denies family's dying wish

What sort of company splurges $24 million on a golden handshake for its 
already wealthy departing CEO and yet denies time off for one of its union 
workers to attend the bedside of a dying family member?

This is not a hypothetical question. It actually happened in the past few 
weeks and the company is BHP.

While BHP was signing the multi-million cheques for its former CEO Brian 
Gilbertson, Marion Robinson's father lay dying in a Melbourne hospital. 
Marion's husband Ray works for BHP in the Pilbara since they moved there 
from Melbourne eight years ago.

As soon as her father's request arrived Marion contacted Qantas to make 
urgent flight arrangements for the trip for herself, Ray and their 
daughter. Qantas were magnificent organising for the family to be on the 
next flight out of Port Hedland with a reduced fare.

But the Robinson family never made it. Ray, who has more than 800-hours of 
leave accrued, was denied leave to go by BHP. The family was devastated but 
Marion and her daughter went.

The reason why Ray was denied leave is as obvious as it is disgusting. He 
is a Union man and he was punished for rejecting BHP's attempt to cajole 
him onto an individual contract.

Marion left no one in the Pilbara in any doubt about her feelings in a 
moving letter to the region's paper, The Northwest Telegraph, when she 
wrote of BHP: "It seems their compassion doesn't extend to an old man's 
dying wish. My husband's combined leave entitlements add up to over 800-
hours, so I guess flexibility didn't figure either."

Ray and Marion Robinson's experience is a shocking indictment of BHP's 
vicious anti-unionism in the Pilbara. While its actions are morally 
repugnant, it economic sense is a farce. Both its morals and its economics 
are driven by a blind ideological crusade against collective bargaining in 
which BHP is shooting itself in the foot.

* * *
Common Cause

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