BHP to meet with unions over pay in the Pilbara

BHP Billiton has to begin pay talks in an effort to end union exclusion at its Pilbara mines while it faces strikes this week at its BMA coal operations.

This move comes after high court action by unions against Rio Tinto over its bypassing unions in negotiations with workers in the region.

The decision represented a strengthening union presence in the Pilbara, and had significant impactions for Rio's Pilbara rival BHP Billiton, which has also employed similar contracts on some of its sites.

BHP invited unions to discussions after sending letters to its train drivers and workers in Port Hedland asking them to nominate either a union or bargaining agent to discuss upcoming pay deals, according to The West.

The talks will begin early July, and mark the first union deal for BHP since 1999.

CFMEU district secretary Gary Wood said the unions are likely to try and change the existing pay and work structures.

"We wish to consultatively address some of the issues that have arisen during the period without union involvement, such as anomalies in pay and conditions, and pay structures," Wood said.

He went on to say this move appears to be a pre-emptive attempt to curb potential industrial action as workers are unable to legally strike over pay until their current conditions expire, which will not happen for another year at its Pilbara operations.

"With BHP going 12 months before the expiry of the agreements, workers can't take industrial action; so it seems to want to minimise (this) activity."

At its Queensland joint venture coal operations BHP has threatened to withdraw is proposed pay rise of 15% over three years plus a $15 000 as its latest EA was voted down by workers.

This is the second rejection of a proposed work agreement from the miner, and comes as the ACTU announces it support of the union's action.

According to the CFMEU, the AEC says more than 82% of miners voted against the latest workplace agreement, a drop from the previous 92% who voted against the last EA proposal.

CFMEU district president Steve Smyth said this demonstrates that BHP is out of touch with its workers.

"BHP should take a good hard look at these figures and realise that it needs to start working with its employees rather than trying to take things away from them."

He also criticised the miner after a number of workers failed to receive their ballots.

"On top of all that we get BHP chairman Jacques Nasser last week saying Australian workers are treated too well," Smyth said.

"No wonder Jac wants to change workplace laws, his company keeps getting caught out for ignoring them."

Smyth was referring to Nasser's address at the Australian Institute of Company Directors lunch where Nasser discussed issues affecting the miner -both industrial relations as well as governmental issues.

Smyth has now said that the focus is not on money, according to News.com.au

"We haven't even started talking about money.

 "We will negotiate pay when we get to it."

BMA chief Stephen Dumble criticised the unions, saying the unions have rejected all its alternatives for the safety management position on site.

"Each of the solutions BMA has proposed has been rejected by the unions," Dumble said.

"The current BMA enterprise agreement negotiation is at an impasse over exactly this type of issue where unions want to ignore current market and employment trends and instead preserve a status quo position for their own industrial ends.

"The issue in question is too important to be caught up in this way. It is a real issue which demands a real solution."

Rolling strikes will begin at BMA's coal mines on Thursday.

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