BHP pushes Senate to can union meetings on site

BHP coal boss Dean Dalla Valle has pressed the Senate to pass a new Fair Work Amendment Bill which would prevent union representatives from meeting with members in workplaces.

Writing exclusively for The Australian, Dalla Valle said legislative changes last year gave unions greater power to talk to employees in areas not previously allowed, and that they had caused work stoppages and “seriously reduced productivity” by undertaking “right of entry” visits.

“BHP Billiton expressed concerns about these changes including that they would divert resources away from production and to the task of escorting union officials around our sites as well as subjecting employees to union discussions at times “when they might prefer privacy”.

CFMEU general secretary of mining and energy Andrew Vickers said escorting union officials was unnecessary as they are former mine workers who understand their responsibilities and safety procedures on site, and that managers and supervisors only wanted to escort officials to listen in on union discussions.

Dalla Valle also said that union officials had stopped draglines from operating at one coal mine by demanding to meet with dragline operators inside the operator’s cabin, which necessitated the machines stop for health and safety reasons.

Vickers denied that a dragline had to be stopped for discussions to occur.

ACTU assistant secretary Tim Lyons said that the complaints from BHP were consistent with a “histrionic series of claims” and that they were not supported by evidence.

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said all Australian workers deserve the right to access independent advice and advocacy at their workplace.

“This bill goes well beyond the regulations of entering workplaces; it goes to, for example exposing workers to unfair individual agreements that are open to abuse by unscrupulous employers.”

Dalla Valle said BHP coal operations currently faced 75 disputes with the CFMEU, and that CFMEU representatives made 550 site visits to the Worlsey Alumina refinery over a three year period.

CFMEU district secretary Steve Smyth said the most of the disputes referred to by Dalla Valle involved unfair dismissals, and that meetings relating to these dismissals took place between administrative and management staff and union officials, which had no bearing on productivity on sites.

“I’m a bit surprised that someone in mining would make claims like this, especially about the draglines,” Smyth said.

“I’m actually a bit amused that Dean, with his years of experience in the mining industry, doesn’t actually understand how that works.

“When we enter a dragline we talk with the two operators separately, in the separate crib room on the machine.

“The dragline does not stop operating, except to allow officials on board, which takes a maximum of one to two minutes, the same as when a supervisor of manager wants to enter the cabin.

“You call up the dragline an say you’re coming on board, the operator says okay and finishes his cycle, swings around to where his next cycle starts so he’s ready to go anyway, drops the ladders and stairs, it’s about a 100 meter walk on the radius, up the stairs, they lift it all back up and he starts swinging. They do that day in, day out, to let anyone on the machine.

“The way we do it, we try to ensure productivity continues uninterrupted. A dragline needs two operators, and if we had to take them to another crib room that would stop production.”

Smyth said that all union meetings take place during meal breaks, and that if any member or worker does not want to be involved with the discussion they either do not take part in the discussion, or will take their break outside.

“This really is just a beat up, to be honest.”

On the requirement to escort officials, Smyth said all officials were experienced former coal mine employees who sometimes are inducted for the site, that they did not require escorts, and that some mines did not require the officials to be escorted.

“They [supervisors] still want to drive us around and drop us at the crib rooms, but then they try to sit in the crib room or just outside the door, which intimidates our members and scares them out of wanting to talk about their issues,” Smyth saida.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous, the comments that he’s made, and for an experienced miner I woiuld have thought he’s be smarter than that.”