ACTU backs Bowen Basin BMA fight

The ACTU has thrown its support behind unions as industrial action continues at BMA coal mines in Queensland.

The CFMEU says the ACTU passed a resolution at its latest congress in Sydney to urge unions to continue industrial action "to maintain safety and conditions at BHP's Bowen Basin mines".

It comes as the mining unions accuse BHP of not mailing out the latest enterprise agreement ballots to all workers.

The CFMEU raised concerns with the Australian Electoral Commission over BHP Billiton's ballot for its BMA coal miners after 154 workers claim they have not received voting papers.

Late last month BHP sent out a postal ballot for BMA miners to vote on a new enterprise agreement following more than a year of continual industrial action.

At the time, the CFMEU raised concerns over the ability of the ballot to reach all workers before the vote began, going to Fair Work Australia to halt the vote.

However Fair Work Australia rejected the motion from the CFMEU and allowed the miner to send out the postal ballots, although it did extend the deadline by a week to 18 May.

BMA said that it was hoping to end the long running industrial dispute.

The CFMEU claimed that more than 150 workers have not received their voting papers.

ACTU backing the battle

It has now welcomed the ACTU decision; with CFMEU district president Steve Smyth stating that "Bowen Basin workers should feel particularly heartened by the ACTU's recognition of the need for good faith bargaining during negotiations".

The ACTU said it will mobilise to support the union movement in Australia and abroad in the event "BHP continued to refuse to negotiate in good faith and inflicts further harm on its workers, their families, mining communities and investors in its coal operations.

"We condemn BHP's pursuit of safety deregulation that would transfer vital safety roles from qualified workers on the job to management," it said.

The ACTU went on to "condemn BHP's insistence on clinging to WorkChoices provisions imposed on coal mineworkers in the last EA reached in the Howard in 2007, particularly the provision that stripped contract and labour hire workers of equal pay and conditions and have allowed them to become a source of cheap labour to undermine permanent employees".

Despite this claim, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics miners have seen the highest wage growth.

Data has shown Western Australian workers received an average 1.5% pay rise in the three months to March.

The raise was led by the resources industry, which again billed the highest pay rises in Australia.

At the low end the accommodation and food services, telecommunications, and arts and recreation industries reported an average 0.2% rise.

The national average increase for mining workers was 11 times higher at 2.2%.

BHP bites back

BHP has hit back at the ACTU claims of negotiating in bad faith.

Earlier this week BHP chairman Jacques Nasser hit out at the deteriorating industrial relations situation across Australia.

"In recent years, it's hard not to feel as if our industrial relations system has been like a pendulum, swinging from one approach to another," he said yesterday at the Australian Institute of Company Directors lunch.

It comes after close to 18 months of constant industrial action at BHP's joint venture BMA coal mines in Queensland, which has caused a significant slump in the miner's coal output and also contributed to its forced closure of the Norwich Park coal mine.

"I am not casting blame here, either at management, the government, unions, or the workforce. I basically believe the framework is just not appropriate and doesn't recognise today's realities," Nasser said.

"It is imperative for companies to have the ability to be represented but it also recognizes the right of management to run the business without the constant threat of a veto over operational decision making."

When asked by Australian Mining his view on the BMA union action in particular and its effect on the miner's coal output, Nasser said the industrial action doesn't help".

"It has been 17 months of constant issues when really it should be growing in this time of strength.

"It is perplexing and I am trying to understand why it is ongoing at time like this," Nasser told Australian Mining.

"While BHP respects the roles of unions in the industrial relations landscape…we do not believe that the influence of unions should be disproportionate to the level of union membership which today accounts four around 15% of employees in Australia's private sector."

Nasser went on to highlight the issues it faced at its BMA operations, saying over the past year alone it faced 3200 incidents of industrial action, and received 1000 notices of intention to take industrial action – and then approximately 500 notices withdrawing that action given on less than 24 hours notice.

His comments echo those of Rio Tinto chief Tom Albanese and BHP CEO Marius Kloppers.

Fights get physical

However, the fights have not just occurred at management level, with the industrial action devolving on the ground as well.

An ex-Norwich Park worker is fighting BMA after he was sacked for allegedly calling a non-union employee a "scab c**t".

Walter Meacle is accused of abusing non-union worker Trevor Loader during strike action at the now closed Norwich Park mine in the Bowen Basin.

Meacle is accused of yelling "scab c**t" at Loader and jumping a barrier to give him "the finger" during industrial action.

After investigating the incident BMA terminated Meacle's employment, but he and the Construction, Forestry, Mining, and Energy Union deny the event took place.

In the opening day of the Fair Work court battle Meacle admitted to "yelling words at vehicles" but denied specifically targeting Loader.

The CFMEU is representing Meacle and is expected to argue he was sacked because of his involvement in the union's strike action.

Despite the situation being heated for Australia, it remains relatively level headed compared to recent union actions in South Africa, where miners have been wounded and three killed after Implats fired 17 200 workers who carried out illegal strikes, without union backing.


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