BMA union talks move forward

 The ongoing battle between the CFMEU and the BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) has taken a step forward after talks last week.

This is the latest round of enterprise bargaining negotiations and industrial action which have wracked the Queensland coal mines for more than 12 months, according to the ABC.

However, CFMEU district president Steve Smyth says they are beginning to make headway.

"I’m a lot more optimistic today on Friday than I was on Monday and that’s obviously based on the way BHP has approach these talks for the last well over 12 months now," he said.

"I must say they’ve come back to the table with a bit of a different attitude and we have made some progress.

"Obviously the devil will be in the detail."

The BMA and CFMEU negotiations saw a number industrial actions over the year, with Smyth stating the union was angry that despite making a $23 billion profit this year BHP had backed away from a commitment to family-friendly rosters and a fair housing policy.

In November last year, BMA sought an end to the strikes via increased meetings with the Single Bargaining Unit (SBU).

A BMA spokesperson told the SBU, which is made up of a number of workers unions, that it is aiming for more meetings "in order to further accelerate" enterprise agreement negotiations.

"Employees are providing the company with ongoing feedback that they are frustrated with the speed of negotiations and want more meetings so that an agreement can be finalised as soon as possible," they said.

"BMA again calls on the unions to withdraw all industrial action when productive negotiations continue, particularly while they are unwilling to commit to additional meetings.

"The ongoing industrial action causes unnecessary financial harm to the business and our employees, particularly in the lead-up to Christmas and will not assist in finalising negotiations more quickly."

It came on the back of more than 90% of unionised miners rejecting a BMA offer which consisted of a 5 % year-on-year pay rise for three years, a $15,000 bonus and other benefits.

The unions said at the time that they were still opposed to the deal, and were in part looking for an arrangement with less working hours.

The mining industry saw a massive spike in union battles last year, with the ABS noting a record number of disputes for the September quarter.

Sixty-six disputes took place during this time, ABS figures revealed. This was 13 more than in the June quarter 2011.

September quarter figures also showed that the number of employees involved in industrial disputes was 66,400, an increase from 14,700 in the June quarter 2011.

A reported 101,300 working days were lost due to industrial disputation in the September quarter 2011, which is an increase from 66,200 in the June quarter 2011.

The coal mining industry had the highest number of working days lost per thousand employees (155.8 days lost) for the quarter.

New South Wales accounted for 52,900 (52%) of working days lost.  The state also had the highest number of working days lost per thousand employees (16.8 days lost) for the quarter.

The ABS also noted that while there were fewer disputes during the year ending September 2011, more working days was lost during the same period.

Rio Tinto CEO Tom Albanese has also 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.

It went on to say that bitter union negotiations are stalling big resources projects and threatening investor confidence.

The AMMA reportedly called for the law amongst a number of other proposals it has submitted for the Federal review of the industrial relations laws.

AMMA spokesperson Minna Knight said legislation is needed to ban some strikes as existing laws are too lenient.

Following a survey of more than 700 union applications for industrial action, it was found that Fair Work Australia granted the right to carry out strikes in all but six cases.

"Fair Work Australia should have a ‘public interest’ mechanism, whereby it refuses to approve protected industrial action where union claims are deemed extravagant and/or against the public interest.

"To date, the tribunal has never held that a union has not genuinely tried to reach an agreement with the employer, no matter what types of outrageous claims have been on the table."

The BMA talks continue.

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