BHP to sue CFMEU for millions

BHP Billiton subsidiary BMA is suing mining union CFMEU for $2.4 million for unlawful work stoppages.

The move is just the latest in the unending union battle at BMA's coal mines in the Bowen Basin.

For close to two years the CFMEU has held rolling work stoppages across BMA coal mines after initial pay and rostering agreements broke down in 2010.

Now BHP has alleged that one of these work stoppages was illegally carried out, and taking the union to court, the Daily Mercury reports.

BHP claims that on 22 February 2010 one of the union's safety representatives forced the mine to halt operations between six to eight hours, costing the mine hundreds of thousands of dollars.

At its Goonyella coal mine alone BHP believes the cost came close to $150 000 just in lost wages.

The miner alleges that CFMEU industry safety and health rep Tim Whyte unlawfully shut down the mines in the belief that BMA's new fatigue plan was unsafe.

Safety representatives are allowed, under the Coal Mining Safety and Health Act, to immediately halt operations for safety and health purposes, however if this power is used for anything else it can result in serious fines.

In its claim BMA and the QLD Government's chief inspector reportedly asked Whyte to withdraw the work stoppage orders, however BMA states that these requests were dismissed.

It goes on to state that the chief inspector for mines eventually cancelled the order himself.

BMA's case also includes not only the CFMEU as a whole, but also Whyte and district president Steve Smyth as individual.

Mediation talks between BMA and the CFMEU had been progressing, but have begun to stagnate again over the past month.

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