BHP’s Nasser hit out at deteriorating BMA situation, industrial relations in Australia

BHP chairman Jacques Nasser has hit out over the government's industrial relations policy and the union stalemate at its BMA coal mines.

"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.

Albanese stated that industrial action in mining is often based on 'trivial issues', adding that Australian miners are paid double what US miners earn.

Albanese warned that 'militant type relationships' and aggressive stances by unions threaten mining companies' performances and future.

"I think that we have a risk in Australia that the aggressive IR (industrial relations) agenda against the companies could further reduce productivity in an environment of very high wages," Albanese stated.

The Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) have also called for legislation to ban strikes that 'offend public interest or are designed to pressure employers to cave in to union demands.

Kloppers has also slammed Fair Work, saying it had made it too easy for workers to strike and too difficult for miners to negotiate with unions.

Nasser yesterday said "if we are to stem the fall in our relative competiveness, as a nation we need an industrial relations framework that is fair but also builds a culture of continuous improvement and acceptance of change.

"The Government's review of the Fair Work Act is an opportunity to move the pendulum back to a more appropriate balance." 

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