Bowen Basin strikes hurt coal price, QLD gov says

The ongoing strikes at BHP's Bowen Basin coal mines have finally forced a breaking point for the Queensland Government.

The Government is reportedly investigating its options under the Fair Work Act to break the strikes, according to The Australian.

It is believed that the 18 months of industrial action has already cost the QLD government around $50 million in lost mining royalties.

QLD deputy premier Jeff Seeney called on the Gillard Government to intervene following the latest strike action on Thursday after the latest proposed enterprise agreement from BHP failed to receive enough votes.

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.

"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.

It came 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."

The Government has now made that stand, Seeney stating that "every Queenslander should be worried about the prospect of industrial action in the Bowen Basin coalmines".

"All of us depend on the money that the coal industry makes, for the schools and the roads and the hospitals that the state government provides," he said.

"Any interruption to that coal industry will affect every Queenslander individually."

He went on to ask the unions to realise the impact the industrial action was having on the national economy, and said the government is now stepping in by reviewing its options for intervention.

"There are some opportunities under Fair Work legislation, but at this point in time I don't want to speculate about how we might use these opportunities," he said.

The flow on effect of these continuing strikes is also likely to be a rise in the commodity's price but that it may harm the miner's future trading, according to the ABC.

"If there's a perception amongst consumers of coal in Asia that this really has no light at the end of the tunnel in terms of some sort of resolution, then it's likely that traders and end consumers will start to get a little bit nervous," Mine Life analyst Gavin Wendt told the ABC.

"They've been fortunate in that there's been plenty of supply around and demand has been easing.

"I think Asian buyers have pulled back from the market, but industrial action could well be the trigger for some of these end consumers starting to come back into the market to start to accumulate, in anticipation of prices potentially going higher if indeed this dispute does drag on."

To date BHP has recorded a slump in its coal output and revenues, but expects this to drop even further as its supplies run low in the wake of the ongoing work stoppages.

 

To keep up to date with Australian Mining, subscribe to our free email newsletters delivered straight to your inbox. Click here.